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UCLA will kick single-use plastics to the curb starting summer 2020

The California Public Interest Research Group and the UCLA office of sustainability announced Friday that UCLA will phase out single-use plastics across all campus operations starting July. CALPIRG is working to make the policy UC-wide. (Daniel Leibowitz/Daily Bruin staff)

By Samantha Fredberg

Jan. 25, 2020 6:44 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 27 at 12:11 a.m.

UCLA will phase out single-use plastics across all campus operations starting this summer, campus organizations announced Friday.

The California Public Interest Research Group and the UCLA office of sustainability announced the decision in a press release published Friday morning. The first phase of the policy is scheduled to begin in July and will remove all plastic food service accessories, such as plastic utensils, lids and bags.

At first, compostable and reusable accessories will be available upon request but will eventually be cut down to only reusable accessories, according to the press release. The policy plans to progress to the point where UCLA will eliminate all single-use plastic water bottles on campus.

“Recycling and composting is not the lone solution anymore,” said UCLA Zero Waste Coordinator Kikei Wong. “We really need to focus on the reduction of single-use plastics as well as our dependence on these products.”

Sithara Menon, chair of the UCLA chapter of CALPIRG, said the organization is working to make the policy UC-wide.

”All of the campuses will be making this commitment, but UCLA is actually on a little bit of a faster track,” said Menon, a third-year biology student. UCLA will be the first campus to fully phase out single-use plastics.

The policy has been drafted and is currently under review by key stakeholders, said Chief Sustainability Officer Nurit Katz. The office hopes to release the policy for a 30-day public comment period before the end of winter quarter. This will be followed by an adjustment period. The policy will finally be established before the end of the 2019-2020 school year, Katz added.

The first phase of the policy, addressing plastic food service accessories, is similar to a shift that UCLA has made before. Over time, UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services has switched to compostable food service items – such as utensils, cups and take-out containers – for take-out options on the Hill.

UCLA Housing and Hospitality Services will continue this progress by doing the same for additional food accessories and switching to a supplier that provides more environmentally friendly options, said Erin Fabris, the UCLA Housing and Hospitality Sustainability manager.

One of UCLA’s several suppliers for single-use food accessories in on-campus dining is Stalk Market. While Stalk Market’s utensils are locally compostable, they are not marine degradable, meaning that they are not designed to biodegrade in water, Fabris said.

“A lot of utensils are going to be changed to different compostable materials to address the issue of marine compostability because of the possibility of plastic trash washing into the ocean,” Menon said.

Although this change is monumental for UCLA’s environmental impact, the effect on students will remain minimal, Menon said.

“Moving away from single-use plastics is not really taking away options for students; it’s more like giving people the ability to have alternatives,” she said.

Menon added that the convenience of single-use plastic is outweighed by its long-term environmental cost.

“On a fundamental level, I really believe that nothing that we’re using for a couple of minutes should be hurting the environment for literally millions of years,” Menon said.

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Samantha Fredberg
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