The State of Waste Management in UC Berkeley Fraternities

Alex Dhond

Fraternities at UC Berkeley have serious waste problems, and if you have ever stepped one, you’ll probably notice that, with regard to waste, there’s something I informally call a “one bin system”. It sounds pretty much like what it is — all waste goes into one bin. Recycling is pretty much non-existent, and this lack of trash separation is only a small part of a whole host of sustainability issues in the Greek system at Cal.

To give some background, between 2010 and 2015, a lawsuit against the Interfraternity Council (IFC) at Berkeley on the grounds of neighborhood disruption was filed by a group of neighbors, which resulted in a settlement agreement in which the IFC would pay costs of damages as well as follow a set of rules in order to cause less nuisance to the community. Some of the rules included more stringent regulations on noise, party registrations, and waste management. While the IFC has made some strides in limiting party-related disturbances, in recent years the focus has shifted onto waste management. On this front, the terribly sorted and overflowing trash that piles up on fraternity dumpsters has been a sore spot for many of the neighbors and community members that live near fraternities. For many houses, this trash issue is actually a violation of the terms of settlement agreement, and the houses that continue to have obscene trash issues risk opening themselves up to another lawsuit.

Berkeley city law requires that buildings that follow a Group Living Accomodations (GLA), such as fraternities, have and use a four-bin waste system. In my personal experience, almost no fraternity at Berkeley actually properly uses a waste system as mandated by the city and the settlement agreement. The question, then, is why?

I would offer that a combination of lack of will, interest, and incentives play a large role in shaping how IFC members act around sustainability. Personally, I think that incentive based solutions are the way to go in terms of producing tangible change.

For example, each fraternity has a housing board that generally manages the operations of a fraternity. These housing boards have already paid a hefty sum as part of the settlement agreement, and should fraternities continue to not comply with the terms of the settlement, they inevitably will be taken to court again. In order to prevent this, housing boards should make a strong, concerted effort in investing in proper waste sorting infrastructure in fraternities. Buying proper bins, making sure members properly sort trash, and making sure waste does not pile up could potentially save these housing boards lots of money in the future. Why little action has been taken so far on the part of the housing boards is a mystery to me.

The question of enforcement then arises. In this regard, a monetary fine might be sufficient to put enough financial pressure on fraternities to force them to actually implement proper waste management practices. Currently, there is no such system for fining houses for improper waste management. The IFC itself could mandate houses to engage in proper waste sorting– yet there has been slow progress on this end. If monetary fines are impractical, enforcing proper waste management could be done by mandating social probation.

Regardless of what the specific incentive is, whether it be social probation, fines, or worse, the most important thing is making sure that progress is made in actually implementing such incentives. The waste situation in fraternities will continue to exist if nothing is done, and it is up to fraternity members and IFC leadership to get the ball rolling on this.

While fraternities are only a small part of the student life at UC Berkeley, they play a large role in the quality of life for they residents and neighbors. By properly managing themselves (and their waste) fraternities can build and maintain strong, healthy relationships with their neighbors and show that they are a positive force in the Berkeley community. 

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