Zero-Waste Programming

In Articles by hmtannenbaum

It may be the end of Plastic-Free July, but it is not the end of being plastic-free in the MAS MBC program!

The MAS MBC program is proud to be a Zero-Waste program. We do not use or provide any single-use plastic or disposable dish-ware to students, guests, faculty or researchers at MAS MBC events.

Instead, when MBC students arrive at Orientation in June, they are welcomed with a “swag bag” of reusable goodies: a tote bag, metal water-bottle, reusable coffee-tumbler, a steel cup, a ceramic playa bowl, and a set of bamboo utensils, all with Scripps & MAS MBC logos to show our pride in providing these items.

At the many lunches, mixers, happy hours, and networking events throughout the year, MBCers bring their reusable dish-ware, as the program does not provide disposable alternatives. For guests attending events, we encourage them to bring reusable dish-ware as well. At the annual MAS MBC Capstone Symposium, we have our caterers provide china and reusable, washable dishes instead of any disposable or commercially-compostable products which typically end up in landfills.

“We know a small program like ours giving up on single-use plastic doesn’t move the needle in terms of plastic consumption and pollution. However, many people think it is not possible to host large, professional-events without single-use plastic. We are showing our students, our network, and our community, vendors, suppliers, and UCSD, that zero-waste events are doable, and that there is a demand for events to be less wasteful.” ~ Hannah Tannenbaum, MAS MBC Program Coordinator

And there is always more work to be done! We checked in with Nicole Matthesen (MBC ’23) about their single-use plastic journey, insights, and resources:

“What I found to be most helpful when embarking on a zero waste journey is to start small. Many people feel overwhelmed and powerless with the idea of eliminating waste in their lives all at once, but if you pick one area to focus on it can encourage you to try it in other areas too. Small wins can lead to big victories. Bring a reusable coffee thermos next time you head to your favorite coffee shop, leave a few tote bags in your car so you’re ready to shop, these types of small intentional actions build momentum and can help shift our behavior. You can also find inspiration and community by checking out a zero waste store. The Mighty Bin here in San Diego is a wonderful place to source ideas from. Viewing this journey with curiosity can also help us discover new ways to lessen our footprint. I’m inspired everyday by the changes I see with cities and businesses shifting the waste burden and taking a proactive approach to creating more circular communities.

In fact, it was that concept, circular economies, that inspired my capstone project in the MAS MBC program. When I discovered that single-use takeout items account for almost half of all trash found on our beaches, I realized that putting our efforts into creative source solutions could help us make more significant changes. Armed with this research, I set out to empower restaurants to make a sustainable transition. This effort resulted in the creation of a one-stop-shop website directory resource to make packaging information and sustainable vendors and services options more easily accessible. By leveraging existing solutions and new ways of doing business by bringing together different sectors, I believe we can accelerate solutions that reduce our collective reliance on single-use. We all have a part to play and we can let that be empowering rather than paralyzing. There’s so many ways to plug in and no wrong way to get started.”

For her capstone project, Nicole created a website, The Circular Directory, to provide resources for restaurants, individual consumers, and other food-service businesses, to transition out of single-use plastics.
The MAS MBC program first transitioned to zero-waste events in 2018, with the support of Sustainability at Scripps. The earliest iteration had reusable dishes provided by Sustainability at Scripps, and rented for specific events. The MAS MBC program is proud to have pioneered this initiative for Zero-Waste events at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which has since expanded. Now, other departments around Scripps campus have also started providing their students, staff and faculty with reusable water-bottles, utensils and cups, and more.

We would love to see  Zero-Waste events as the standard, not the exception. We hope to role-model that social and networking events are critically important, but don’t have to be massively wasteful when they take place. And we hope our programmatic commitment continues to inspire students and the larger MBC community to question the bounds of what is “normal,” and what could be achieved with some creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

We are always seeking ways the MAS MBC program can pioneer, role-model, and inspire mindset-shifts for a more conservation-minded future. If you have any suggestions or ideas on improving sustainability at the MAS MBC program, please feel free to email