by Noel Gallgher
BERKELEY — Cal Dining is beefing up on its greens
For starters, Crossroads, the largest of four student dining commons at the University of California, Berkeley, recently became the first campus facility certified as a Bay Area Green Business by Alameda County officials.
The honor means that Crossroads, which opened in January 2003, meets specific criteria aimed at conserving energy and water, reducing waste and preventing pollution. And it demonstrates the campus's continuing efforts to make its dining halls, which serve 8,000 meals a day, more environmentally friendly and dedicated to sustainable practices.
"Crossroads has become a model for other units at UC Berkeley by incorporating sustainable practices into its operations," said Mark Freiberg, director of UC Berkeley's Office of Environment, Health & Safety. "Its efforts demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and an awareness of environmental sensitivities that moves beyond regulatory compliance."
"The goal is to have all four dining halls certified by fall 2006," said Kim LaPean, UC Berkeley's marketing coordinator for residential and student service programs.
Crossroads has window space to let in natural light, energy-efficient lighting, low-flow water faucets, and tables cleaned with cloth instead of paper. Its water conservation efforts alone have resulted in saving 180,000 gallons a month - enough to supply 30 homes for a month.
Crossroads also donates excess food to a local homeless shelter and gives food scraps to an on-campus worm collective, "Berkeley Worms," that sells the worm castings to local gardeners and others.
A UC Berkeley student in nutritional sciences, Esther Situ, was hired to help Crossroads meet the green business requirements, speeding the process by coordinating efforts between the dining hall and outside agencies such as PG&E and East Bay MUD, LaPean said.
Freiberg also noted Situ's work, crediting the certification to "a cross-disciplinary team approach, which included a very hard-working and resourceful student."
In another new "green" initiative this fall, the four dining halls will offer "to-go" packaging made from sugar cane, which biodegrades quickly. LaPean said the facilities will likely go through 2,500 to-go containers a day.
And the homeless shelter donations will be expanded later this month to include all four dining halls, she said.
Crossroads began donating food to Harrison House, a Berkeley shelter, in May. Again, a student was pivotal: Nutritional sciences student Lisa Nelson got the program past logistical hurdles such as arranging for regular pickups.
There's likely to be so much more food once all four dining halls are participating that it will have to be distributed to additional shelters or charitable organizations, LaPean said.
Crossroads' program with Berkeley Worms will also be expanded. Currently, the dining hall gives pre-consumer food waste such as egg shells and coffee grounds to the worm collective. But this fall it will start donating post-consumer food - that half-eaten hamburger or the crusts off a sandwich - to the program.
Berkeley Worms, founded over a decade ago, composts about 200 tons of food waste every year, including about 70 tons from the campus dining halls.
This will mean changing the way the dining halls are set up and educating student customers to scrape off extra food into a special bin instead of just tossing it into the garbage, LaPean said.
The Alameda County Green Business Program is a government-business partnership that includes the East Bay Small Business Development Center, Alameda County Waste Management Authority, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the city of Fremont, Alameda County Water District and PG&E.