With more than 1 million pounds of waste produced each year at UCLA, the time has come for the campus community to clean up its act.

To reduce what the university is throwing away and protect air, water and soil from pollution, UCLA students and employees are encouraged to participate in the Think Outside the Landfill Challenge.

“The race to zero waste begins now, with every Bruin playing a role in helping this initiative succeed,” said Kikei Wong, UCLA’s zero waste manager. The project is a collaborative effort between staff in UCLA’s sustainability and facilities management departments.

The challenge features weekly waste-diversion tasks such as bringing your own bags to the supermarket, switching to rechargeable batteries, or shopping for clothes at a secondhand store. Students, faculty and staff who participate will be automatically entered into a random prize drawing, with a chance to win gift cards to the ASUCLA bookstore and Trader Joe’s, UCLA apparel, an air fryer and more.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates about two-thirds of all waste in the United States gets dumped in a landfill — literally trashing the planet. Currently, UCLA’s waste diversion rate, the amount of waste that is recycled or composted, is 56%.

Nurit Katz, UCLA’s chief sustainablity officer, said the goal for the future is to reach 90%.

Properly sorting trash is the key, Wong said. Waste bins distributed across campus utilize an easy-to-follow system that allows people to sort their waste into:

  • Recyclable material — hard plastics, clean paper, glass and metals
  • Compostable material — food and liquids, soiled paper products  
  • Landfill material — snack wrappers, plastic utensils and straws, Styrofoam

Recyclables like bottles and cans don’t have to be rinsed out, although that is preferred if there’s a lot of grease or food. Drain the liquids and scrape as much food out into the compost section.

UCLA’s zero waste initiative doesn’t stop at recycling and composting. Bruins can also support the effort by avoiding single-use items for example, drinking coffee from a reusable mug and skipping the straw when eating out.

These goals align with UCLA’s Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which applies interdisciplinary UCLA research, expertise and education to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050 — making it the most livable, equitable, resilient, clean and healthy megacity, and an example for the world.

UCLA Sustainability will be introducing more programs throughout the year to show the campus community other ways to make better, greener decisions, Katz said.

“Bruins, especially students, are more conscious than ever about waste and the negative impact on our planet, as well as public health,” Wong said. “Achieving zero waste is a big step and reflects UCLA’s bold commitment to being a leader on environmental causes.”

Rethinking where rubbish ends up isn’t just about protecting the environment — it concerns people as well. Landfills are often located in lower socioeconomic areas, with waste potentially close to homes. One person’s trash can be harmful to another, making zero waste a social justice issue, said Wong.