chouhallhaas University of California, Berkeley
Chou Hall, University of California, Berkeley

UC Berkeley business school facility pursues zero-waste certification

Chou Hall, which houses the Haas School of Business, opened in 2017.

Chou Hall, a new facility for the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, is on track to become the first "TRUE Zero Waste" certified building in the University of California system.

The school says in a news release that to reach the zero-waste goal, it must divert at least 90 percent of Chou Hall’s waste. It would be the first business school facility in the United States to meet the goal.

The $60 million, 80,000-square-foot facility opened in 2017 and has been designed to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

Zero Waste Initiative volunteers can be found separating trash on a loading dock behind Chou Hall; students carry reusable mugs and water bottles, which can be replenished at filling stations, and compost and recycling bins have been placed on each floor.

Waste audits— which require separating compostable items such as soiled paper towels and used paper cups from recyclable cans and bottles—are a required component of the certification effort, so that the school can better understand the existing waste practices and provide a benchmark for improvement.

The most confusing part of the separating, perhaps, is the voluminous amount and kinds of plastic: there’s compostable plastic, a lot of it originating from Café Think, which uses a corn-based plastic material for its utensils, cups, and trays; and there’s the recyclable plastic and the non-recyclable kind, like a coffee lid, that goes into the landfill.

Following the most recent audit, the team was able to use the waste data to make adjustments, including working with the Evening & Weekend MBA program to change their student snack offering to bulk items, establishing a coffee grounds donation program that enables UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract Farm to use Café Think’s grounds as garden compost, and installing two-roll instead of one-roll toilet paper dispensers in the bathrooms to conserve toilet paper. (Cleaners are less likely to toss an almost-spent roll if there’s a second one in the dispenser.)

Jessica Heiges, the Chou Hall Zero Waste Initiative student lead and a candidate for the Master’s of Development Practice program at the College of Natural Resources, has been working on the project last school year and all summer.

“Change starts here,” she says. “Chou Hall is the first building in an eventual campus-wide zero-waste zone.”

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