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Green Classroom

Green Classroom Program

Sustainability is a broad term that relates to many different topics. Green Classroom aims to help educate the campus community about sustainability issues and how they relate to UC San Diego specifically. UC San Diego educators can implement sustainable practices through the Green Classroom Certification program to operate more efficiently, save resources, help reduce UC San Diego’s environmental impact and provide a positive example to students in the classroom.


The Green Classroom Certification (GCC) program helps campus educators, including university professors, childcare center teachers and Preuss School teachers, to promote resource conservation and receive recognition for their leadership in sustainability. The program team works with educators and their department to identify opportunities to implement or improve existing sustainable practices and earn points toward certification.

Program Goals

The Green Classroom Certification program strives to:

  • Help UC San Diego meet its Climate Action Plan goals related to energy efficiency, waste diversion and alternative transportation
  • Address opportunities for resource consumption savings in campus classrooms by providing a simple and efficient green certification process
  • Assist educators in reducing their resource use and in becoming a model for their students to notice and emulate
  • Increase sustainability education and awareness and promote conservation throughout the campus community
  • Create opportunities for students to gain experience and knowledge through their involvement with sustainability projects
  • Ensure that UC San Diego remains a world leader in sustainability through certifying, recognizing and awarding green practices and efforts within the campus community


Any UC San Diego educator who teaches in a university classroom, including at Early Care & Education centers and The Preuss School, can be certified.

Certification Benefits

  • The certification process is free!
  • Certified educators and their departments receive recognition for their sustainable efforts, accomplishments and innovations.
  • Departments with certified educators can display their commitment to modeling sustainability for their students.
  • Certified educators and departments help UC San Diego reach its Climate Action Plan goals, remain a leader in sustainable practices, reduce natural resource consumption and decrease our environmental impact.

Certification Process

The Green Classroom Certification process involves these steps.

  1. An educator expresses interest in certification by completing the information card.
  2. The certification team reviews the application and sends the educator the Green Classroom Survey to complete. The team reviews the completed survey and sends the Purchasing Survey to the individual that the educator indicated is responsible for making purchases on their behalf.
  3. The certification team presents to the educator to provide:
    • A preliminary certification level by entering survey data into the GCC calculator
    • Gather feedback and make recommendations for adopting new sustainable practices that the educator can implement to increase their certification level.
  4. The certification team awards the educator a recognition certificate. The team will add the individual to the list of certified educators below.
  5. Certification lasts for two years. After the certification expires, an educator can apply for recertification.

Assessment Categories

  • Waste (recycling and waste reduction)
  • Energy (conservation and efficiency)
  • Paper and Printing (responsible printing and paper use)
  • Transportation (use of alternative transportation)
  • Participation (percentage of office staff involved)
  • Innovation (developing new sustainable practices)

Certification Levels

Certification Level Points Earned
Platinum 90+
Gold 80–89
Silver 70–79
Bronze 60–69
Green 50–59

Certified Educators

Sustainability Learning Modules

Green Classroom offers Sustainability Learning Modules to educate campus community members about a variety of sustainability issues. These modules establish the broader context of topics, such as recycling, energy and water, and then narrow the focus to the UC San Diego campus. We will release new modules each month.

May 2021: Recycling

Welcome to the wonderful and confusing world of recycling! Recycling is defined as the action or process of converting waste into reusable material. While recycling can be an important tool in reducing waste, greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption, it is not the silver bullet solution as often presented. When considering the “three R’s,” Reduce and Reuse precede Recycle because they are much more reliable and efficient than simply recycling. With that in mind, we hope you will use this recycling module to help you better understand the broad context of recycling and the specifics relevant to our global region.

When did recycling begin?

Recycling is a problematic solution to waste and the plastic industries have known this from the beginning. However, in order to sell more plastics, they worked to assure the public that recycling was the easy and obvious solution most people think it is today. In this podcast episode of NPR’s Planet Money, they explain that “there was a lot of discussion about how difficult it was to recycle. They knew that the infrastructure wasn’t there to really have recycling amount to a whole lot” and yet, recycling plastic became the new normal.

Listen: Why Have We All Been Recycling Plastic For 30 Years? - Planet Money

Why is recycling so difficult?

In 2018, the nature of recycling changed worldwide due to the Chinese government’s Operation National Sword. Until then, China was buying most of the world’s recycling materials to turn them into new products, but not anymore. This 99% Invisible podcast (episode 341) explains, “in the wake of National Sword, it’s been up to each individual recycling program to find new buyers wherever they can,” and the recycling industry is now facing numerous challenges. This podcast episode does a great job of contextualizing the systematic flaws concerning waste production and diversion in our country, which only became more apparent with National Sword. Note: Stick around for the second half (26:45) to hear about an example of systematic change in recycling collection in Taiwan.

Listen: Episode 341 - National Sword (0:00 - 23:20)

What do recycling plants do?

U.S. recycling plants, called Material Recycling Facilities (MRFs), clean and sort recyclable materials for processing. This YouTube video from SciShow gives us a better scientific understanding of how these facilities work and the differences between recyclable materials. The video also notes that “depending on the MRF's capabilities, plus other factors like market demands, some of these plastics are recycled, while others are thrown away.” Since each recycling program makes its own cost-benefit analysis, we often see some materials accepted in one area but not in another.

Watch: How Recycling Works

How do we fix recycling?

After reviewing the problems with recycling in the U.S. as a result of Operation National Sword and general contamination and disorganization, this article from the State of the Planet from Columbia University illustrates the state of recycling in our country today as well as what can be done to fix it. The article breaks down several angles of response, which we will need, including legislation and innovation, and concludes that “the key to fixing recycling in the U.S. is developing the domestic market. This means improving the technology for sorting and recovering materials, incorporating more recycled material into products, getting these products into the marketplace and creating demand for them.” Our country and the world will require a holistic and multi-faceted response to recycling, but promising signs indicate that we are beginning to get on the right track.

Read: Recycling in the US Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?  

What is the federal government doing about recycling?

This article by Waste Dive details the recent and upcoming federal legislation concerning recycling. It updates every few months to track the timeline and details of each bill or law. The laws vary in their progression through Congress and cover a range of issues, including innovation, infrastructure, education, procurement and reduction of plastic waste. The article points out that “depending on how this unfolds, dramatic shifts could be coming for federal recycling policy in the years ahead.” Read this article to learn about current recycling legislation on the federal level.

Read: Waste Dive

What is the California government doing about recycling?

This article by Californians Against Waste details the recent and upcoming state legislation concerning recycling and other waste reduction efforts. Much like the federal laws, they are each progressing through the state legislature at different rates and the content of the legislation varies from market development to accessibility. The article emphasizes that “Waste reduction and recycling policy in California is at a crossroad, with serious challenges to the economic underpinnings of some programs, and a loss of public faith in its efficacy.” Read this article to learn about current recycling legislation on the state level.

Read: Californians Against Waste

How does recycling work in San Diego?

The City of San Diego’s Recycling Program is a division of the Environmental Services Department. The city website contains helpful links and videos that explain what is recyclable, how recycling works and what commitments the city has made in terms of zero waste and mandatory recycling. Browse this webpage to learn more about the current recycling programs as well as the 2012 Recycling Ordinance, which requires recycling at almost all places of residence and business.

What is recyclable on the UC San Diego main campus?

UC San Diego contracts with EDCO to collect and process our campus recyclables. Recycling on campus is single-stream, which means all recyclables can go in the same blue bin and do not have to be sorted ahead of time. Visit the EDCO Recycling Guide to learn what is recyclable on campus and the condition of items when they are placed in a blue recycling bin. You can also watch EDCO’s videos about their recycling facility, plans for future projects and waste reduction goals.

What does this mean for individuals on campus or in San Diego?

Our own students from the Inter-Sustainability Council (ISC) host a podcast called Think Green. Their Recycling episode provides helpful information and tips for what individuals can do to recycle more efficiently, how recycling works on the UC San Diego campus and why reducing and reusing should be prioritized over recycling. They also touch on the topic of specialty recycling. Listen to the episode to learn what you need to know as an individual on campus regarding recycling.

Listen: Think Green

June 2021: Composting

In the world of food waste diversion, people tend to think of composting first. The term composting literally refers to decomposing organic materials into a nutrient-rich product, but it has become the general term for collecting and processing food waste. Technically, diverting food waste and plant matter from the landfill to turn into something else is referred to as organics recycling, which can include actual composting as well as anaerobic digestion and other methods. Whether it refers to an open-air pile in a backyard or an industrial facility recycling a city’s organics, composting provides a crucial strategy for addressing climate change.

What is compost?

Compost is created by combining organic waste, such as food scraps, yard trimmings, and manure, adding bulking agents, such as wood chips as necessary to accelerate decomposition, and allowing the resulting organic material to break down. There are a variety of different ways to compost. This article from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency touches on the main factors that must be “controlled” during composting and outlines the pros and cons of different types of composting, from residential to commercial. If you’d like to learn more about the process behind each type, this YouTube video by Garden Tips includes a brief overview of anaerobic, aerobic and vermicomposting.

Why are landfills an ineffective way to dispose of food waste?

While food and yard waste does eventually decompose in a landfill, the way it decomposes produces much more greenhouse gas than it would in a compost pile. This short interview from explains the science of landfill decomposition vs. composting and discusses why we should be addressing how landfills manage their food waste while switching to composting systems whenever possible. This short video further explains the downsides of landfills and the  crucial need to divert food and yard waste.

What is anaerobic digestion?

Anaerobic digestion uses bacteria to break down organic matter, but unlike normal composting, it requires the absence of oxygen. Many large-scale organics recycling facilities utilize anaerobic digestion since they are able to take in multiple materials at once through co-digestion. This can include materials that cannot be broken down usually in aerobic composting, such as oils and grease, which means much more post-consumer food waste can be recycled. The digestion process produces biogas, which can be used for things like generating electricity or making vehicle fuel, and digestate which can be a valuable fertilizer or made into bio-based products. This article written by the EPA provides more information on how anaerobic digestion works and why it is useful.

Read: How Does Anaerobic Digestion Work? | AgSTAR: Biogas Recovery in the Agriculture Sector 

What are the benefits of compost?

Compost is used to improve soil quality and help plants grow! Compost improves moisture retention and soil structure, while adding nutrients to the soil. Read the article below to learn more about the benefits of using compost in your gardens and its superiority to alternative options, like commercial fertilizer. On a greater scale, composting transforms the environmental and economic atmosphere of municipal areas. The United States is the largest producer of food waste in the world, disposing of 30-40% of the country’s food supply. This article by Grow Ensemble, an agency working to make sustainability the norm, highlights the many ways that composting benefits the environment and the economy. It outlines the processes through which composting lowers greenhouse emissions, regenerates the soil, revitalizes water sources, fosters food security into the future, and more.


Are compostable and biodegradable products a good alternative to single-use plastic?

No! Unfortunately, the increasingly common single-use compostable/biodegradable cups, to-go containers and utensils are not necessarily better for the environment than the single-use plastic versions when looking at life cycle assessments. Read this article from to learn why “an increase in compostables in the waste stream could, in fact, bungle up the composting process, create more trash and continue consumers’ addiction to single-use items, detracting from the most environmentally beneficial practices: reducing and reusing.” In addition, although every compostable item is biodegradable, not every biodegradable product is compostable. Read this article from The Good Trade to learn about the difference.


What is the composting infrastructure in the US?

While organics recycling is not nearly as common as plastics recycling, more composting facilities are starting to appear throughout the country. In a 2019 study, BioCycle identified a total of 185 full-scale food waste composting facilities in the United States. Take a look at this article from BioCycle to get a sense of the types of composting facilities throughout the United States, materials that are accepted by the facilities, and the difficulty in measuring the total food waste composted in the country. If you want to learn more details about the study, you can read the full report as well. To locate a composting facility near you, use the online Find a Composter portal, which is a free directory of composting facilities throughout North America. 

Do other countries compost?

Yes. In fact, many countries around the world have embraced composting as a solution to food waste with more success than the United States. The European Composting Network is a membership organization with 66 members from 27 European countries. Explore their website that outline their mission to ensure that they protect soils for future generations and highlight their composting successes in Europe.

In South Korea, the 13,000 tons of food waste produced daily become one of three things: 30% compost, 60% animal feed and 10% biofuel. After making it illegal to send food waste to landfills in 2006, the country estimates that the economic benefit of this policy is billions of dollars. This article from the New Yorker examines South Korea’s success, highlighting the financial incentivization, education and use of intermediary groups between people and the government that resulted in community engagement and long-term success.

What are the obstacles facing composting infrastructure?

Composting is one of the cheapest, easiest and least disruptive ways for individuals to reduce carbon emissions and plastic pollution, yet it is surprisingly uncommon in the United States, with only 5-10% of the nation’s food waste being composted. Why isn’t composting more common, especially considering increasing public concern about climate change? This article by discusses the barriers to country-wide composting programs, from lack of access and public apathy to waste management companies that lobby against composting initiatives.

Read: Why Aren’t We Composting All of Our Food Waste?

What is California doing to compost?

In California, organic waste accounts for two thirds of the state’s material in the waste stream. The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) brings together the state’s recycling and waste management programs. An important part of its mission is to increase the diversion of organic materials away from landfills and towards the production of value-added products, such as compost. As part of the strategy to reach the state’s recycling goal by 2025, local governments will be required to provide organics recycling services to residents and businesses. This goal aims to reduce the amount of organic material sent to landfills by 75% and recover 20% of edible food that is thrown away. This article from Waste360 describes some of the regulations to reduce organic waste going to landfills, one of the largest sources of methane pollution in California.

Read: California: First State to Mandate Universal Composting

How do state laws impact the city of San Diego?

San Diego has been working towards organics recycling for some time, but the city recently picked up the pace in response to state laws. For nearly 30 years, Miramar Greenery has been accepting select organic waste materials from large organizations throughout the city. Read this article by CalRecycle from 2019 to learn about the Miramar Greenery and the history of composting in the City of San Diego. Now that things are speeding up, most, if not all, city residents should have access to composting along with their trash and recycling by the beginning of 2022. This Union Tribune article explains the changes that the city is working on to meet the new composting requirements and significantly decrease our city’s food waste production.


What are my composting options on the UC San Diego campus?

As of spring 2021, the easiest place to compost food scraps and paper products on campus is our wonderful student-run gardens. Currently, four of the gardens are actively accepting organics from anyone willing to drop them off. Since they utilize open-air, or aerobic, composting, they cannot accept meat, dairy or oil products. Make sure to check their signs for details on what they accept, or check for garden locations and items they collect. You can find contact information for each garden if you would like to get involved! You can also find compost collection locations and instructions on the UC San Diego map by navigating to “Sustainability” and then “Compost Locations.” Happy Composting!

Does UC San Diego compost campuswide?

UC San Diego sends all pre-consumer food waste, the food scraps discarded by foodservice staff in kitchens, and green waste to be composted at the city’s Miramar Greenery. Beginning in fall 2021, EDCO will begin accepting organics from the campus including post-consumer food waste and paper products (such as paper towels and napkins) using their new anaerobic digester in Escondido. We are excited for organics recycling to become part of the institutional norm, but it will take all of us working together to make it a success! Stay tuned for more information later this summer and in the meantime, take a look at this information on Miramar Greenery and EDCO’s new facility.

Can I compost at home?

Home composting is much easier than you think. Watch this video by Epic Gardening to learn about six different ways to compost no matter where you live. Additionally, in this podcast episode of Life Kit by NPR, Leonard Diggs, the director of operations of the Pie Ranch Farm in Northern California, talks about the different options for composting at home. Leonard started composting in the ‘70s and believes that the need to compost is more urgent than ever. Listen to the full podcast to learn more about the benefits of composting and the first steps towards composting on your own.

More Information

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