Zero Time to Waste! Interview With UCSB Sustainability Club

By Stella Haffner   |   March 21, 2023
The Zero Waste Committee at UCSB

Founded in 2013, UCSB’s Zero Waste Committee was formed to address the university’s goal to reduce waste and redesign their consumption. As a national leader in sustainability initiatives and awareness, the university’s goals are in part maintained by the Zero Waste Committee, represented today by public outreach coordinator Caroline Bancroft. In our interview, Caroline talked about why she enjoys working with the Zero Waste Committee and how to develop a more sustainable lifestyle without all the doom and gloom.

Q. Why would you say it’s important for institutions like the UC’s to try to put zero waste initiatives into practice?

A. First, it encourages students to become more “zero waste” themselves. I think the UC’s as a whole and UCSB are big institutions, so when they become zero waste, it has a large impact on the environment. Also, because the UC system is so big, it may lead other large universities or other conglomerates of universities to take similar steps. I think that because we are located in California, we may be a little more environmentally aware, but I think that schools all over could take the UC’s actions and kind of follow in their footsteps. 

What does the culture of zero waste look like?

Sometimes, people can get tripped up in this all-or-nothing mentality about zero waste. You know, where it’s like, “If I’m not doing everything perfectly, why bother?” But the true culture of zero waste is about making small, incremental changes for yourself that are more sustainable. I think the culture tries to be very encouraging of others. Like I said, with the all-or-nothing mentality, people can get kind of burnt-out and give up to go back to old habits. But I think that the zero-waste culture really fosters community and a want to help each other and be encouraging if people do slip up. It’s not like if you use a plastic bag once it’s over and you’re no longer zero waste. It’s more like: “What can I do today, myself, to lessen my impact on the environment?”

What are some of the big producers of waste on a typical university campus?

Single-use plastics. I think that with the pandemic, we’re trying to be more conscious of health and sanitization, so we kind of stepped back into a lot of single-use items. There’s also a good deal of food waste on campus. When I lived in dorms, I would see it. They’re trying to do the best that they can to mass produce food for everyone, but it’s also true that if every single person wastes a little bit of food, it accumulates to a lot of waste.

Tell me about some initiatives that the Zero Waste Committee is responsible for on campus.

Last year, one of our big projects was trying to get reusable menstrual products into the food bank, so they would be free and accessible to all students. We are still working to get them into the food bank, but I think one of the big things we did accomplish was increasing education about reusable menstrual products. Although this isn’t a specific project, we also do a lot of work increasing compost education and awareness about how students can start composting, and the little things you can do that accumulate a big personal impact. 

We also hold a big festival every year where a bunch of the environmental organizations on campus get together. We have outside vendors like Dr. Bronner’s who will sometimes donate a big thing of soap, then you can bring your own reusable container and fill that up. This is once again a way to educate people but also a way to make zero waste more fun. I feel like a lot of the conversation is very daunting. It’s very doom and gloom. Having events like this, where it doesn’t have to be serious, shows you can have fun while becoming zero waste. 

What made you want to get involved with the Zero Waste Committee?

I have always been really interested in environmentalism, but I just didn’t really know where to start. I was a little bit intimidated by the environmental organizations on campus because it seemed like everyone else just really knows their stuff. But when I saw the opening here, I applied. The committee has reaffirmed this idea that it’s OK to be an imperfect environmentalist. Everyone is just kind of trying to do their best. At the end of the day, we just want to educate people and make individuals empowered. At the same time, we want to work with our institutions to hold them accountable and create change.  

Learn more about the Zero Waste Committee through their website at


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