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The University of California, Irvine has taken many steps to becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Throughout campus there are different methods for taking the green initiative. From separating the food waste from the recyclables to weighing the amounts of wasted food in dining halls, UC Irvine takes a chance to become more environmentally friendly whenever possible.
Water conservation has become one of the top priorities in Southern California due to a water shortage. To promote the use of reusable water bottles, there are “hydration stations” where students can fill up their bottle instead of buying an unopened plastic bottle that will most likely end up in the trash instead of the recycle bin. The school even installed hydration stations in the dorms so residents wouldn’t have to wait to go back to school to refill nor would they have to walk to the grocery store to buy more water. Using a reusable coffee mug will even save a customer a few cents at school restaurants. To raise awareness and to gain participation in recycling, trash bins throughout the campus are accompanied by bins made only for anything purely recyclable such as bottles, cans, and paper items.
Another impact we have made is portioning the food at the dining halls so students don’t take too much food. Students are strongly encouraged to take only what they can eat for a buffet-style dining hall can easily collect large amounts of food waste. To enforce this practice, there are days where the dining hall staff stands by the conveyor belt that collects the leftover dishes and collects the food that was left unfinished. At the end of the day, they weigh in the amount of food that was wasted and post it next to the conveyor belt. When these events happen, it makes the students conscious of the fact that someone is standing there to watch the food that they didn’t eat and makes them think twice before letting the eyes get bigger than their stomachs. For those on the go, the dining halls have a take-out program where there are plastic reusable boxes that students may purchase to use for taking food out of the commons. This portions their meals better since you can only take whatever fits in the box, a cup for soup, and a cup for a drink. For the aspect of reducing meat consumption, UC Irvine installed “Meatless Mondays” to make students aware that there are other food options besides meat. Not only would a decrease in meat save animals, but it would also reduce the carbon footprint by a significant amount. The dining halls have upgraded their food signs displaying the day’s meal with notes clipped on stating if it leaves a light or heavy carbon footprint. This helps students become aware of their impact by ordering the daily special or just grabbing a quick salad. It is inevitable that there will be a little too much food than needed so any extra food is donated to a local church which helps out those in need of food.
Electricity has become so essential in the twenty-first century which is why the school has gathered the funds to install solar panels on the top of parking structures. Southern California is fortunate to have sunny days in even the most unlikely seasons so why not take advantage of it? The lights in the classrooms have motion sensors that will turn off after inactivity in the room. Even the lights in the parking structures are dimmed until a car drives by does it then turn on at full intensity.
UC Irvine has taken many steps to become a better campus not only educationally but also environmentally. Although it would be a little difficult to track, I think that the schools should implement a device that keeps track of how much electricity and water is used and then inform the students of how much resources they are using. It is important to let students know and show them that singing in the shower too long will really affect the overall amount of water used. If they are not informed, then they cannot and will not believe that what they are doing is really costing not only the school but also the limited resources nature can give to us. Last year the UCI Hospitality and Dining held a contest between the different houses in freshman dorms to see who could save them most water which was an effective way of involving students in conserving energy. However I believe involving the whole school in competing with other schools to see who could save the most energy would bring UC Irvine closer as an environmental family.
Kei Lin Chang is a student at the University of California, Irvine and a finalist for the 2013 SaveOnEnergy.com® Education Scholarship. For more information about SaveOnEnergy's scholarship program, visit our scholarship information page.