How To Do Your Part During One of California’s Worst Droughts Yet

Recycled water sign at SJSU

San José State uses recycled water as part of its irrigation system. Photo: David Schmitz

California is in the middle of a severe drought that keeps getting worse.

Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water district board declared a water shortage emergency, urging the community to conserve water by 15 percent compared to 2019 levels. In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 counties.

Editor’s note: On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to 50 counties and asked all Californians to cut water usage by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels.

The drought is accelerating faster than those of previous years, which can cause more wildfires that spread faster and quickly decimate wildlife habitats, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Climate change may be one of the reasons this drought arrived so soon after the last one, which lasted from 2011 to 2017, said Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State, in a recent ABC News report.

“It’s not just about people conserving water in their homes,” she said in the report. “It’s also about agencies thinking strategically about how to amplify the use of non-conventional water sources like recycled water.”

Unfortunately, she added, more frequent and more severe droughts could be our “new normal.”

Three things you can do, starting today

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State. Photo: David Schmitz

To get through this emergency — and help address the bigger, long-term issue of water conservation — we all need to pitch in. Cushing provided three ways we can join the collective effort to conserve our state’s water. Here’s how you can help:

1. Make changes — both big and small — to your everyday habits.

There are lots of easy things to do: take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, only run the dishwasher when full. And those things make a difference, Cushing said.

Or, “the average person flushes the toilet five to seven times per day,” she explained. “If you could reduce that to four to six times, that’s a big improvement.”

When it comes to making bigger, more lasting changes, Cushing advises looking outside.

About half of the water the average household uses is for watering outdoors, Cushing pointed out. She suggested collecting rainwater to use for watering your yard.

If you have a spare $200, you could also turn your used laundry water into an irrigation system. Installing a laundry-to-landscape system can be done without a permit and just requires a plumber to route the used water to your outdoor plants. (Note: If you live in Santa Clara County, you could qualify for a rebate if you install this system.)

Or, you might reevaluate your landscaping altogether.

“Even if we’re not in a drought, the average rainfall for San Jose is 17 inches a year. That doesn’t really go with having a huge green lawn in your front or back yard.

“A lot of the water providers and government agencies are offering incentives to homeowners to convert their lawns to drought-tolerant or native landscaping. And that kind of landscaping is beautiful; it’s designed by nature to thrive in this area. It doesn’t need any water in the summer.”

2. Brace yourself for restriction mandates and follow them.

Restrictions are a crucial part of addressing the water shortage crisis. The state is trying to avoid overtaxing its groundwater supply, Cushing explained, because that can cause subsidence, which is gradual sinking or caving of the landscape. That can impact the structural integrity of buildings, causing salt water to infiltrate groundwater and increase flood risk, she noted.

Restrictions vary by county, and most include limits on watering outdoor landscape. Take a look at restrictions and advisements in your area.

In the face of extreme drought, “you have major crop or pasture losses, so there are significant impacts to the agricultural industry,” Cushing explained. “This drought rivals the dryness we saw in the 1970s, during a very, very severe drought for California. This could be a really bad one, and we don’t know how long it will last.”

3. Look out for future policy and infrastructure changes.

While there are natural fluctuations in precipitation levels, the fact that this drought arrived less than five years after the state’s longest dry spell, which started in 2011 and ended in 2017, is concerning.

“It’s an impact of climate change,” she said. “We’re entering a time where more severe droughts, floods and wildfires are going to occur more frequently, and there’s a higher risk that they’ll be more severe.”

The state needs to be looking for ways to introduce recycled water into its agriculture systems, Cushing said. Construction codes also need to change, so water is used more than once where possible.

“We need to make water conservation and water use a priority,” she added. “It’s an exciting time to think about what we can do, and since we’re in California, in Silicon Valley, we’re in the hotbed of innovation. We are poised to be leaders in this area.”

Learn more about how SJSU’s Office of Sustainability is working to use water more efficiently.

SJSU Launches Inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort

Sustainability Faculty Cohort.

Ten SJSU faculty have been selected for the Sustainability Faculty Cohort: top row, l-r: Lecturer Roni Abusaad; Lecturer Sung Jay Ou; Assistant Professor Tianqin Shi; Assistant Professor Faranak Memarzadeh; second row l-r: Associate Professor Edith Kinney; Associate Professor Minghui Diao; Lecturer A. William Musgrave; Lecturer Thomas Shirley; bottom row l-r: Lecturer Igor Tyukhov; and Associate Professor John Delacruz. Image courtesy of the Office of Sustainability.

San José State Justice Studies Lecturer Roni Abusaad is excited to incorporate a module on the environment and human rights law as part of his Human Rights and Justice course this fall.

“This is an evolving area of human rights law and a great opportunity for students to understand the interconnectivity of all rights and connect theory to current issues like climate change,” Abusaad said at a May 24 faculty presentation.

Abusaad is one of 10 SJSU faculty members who are prepared to lead the way in the university’s inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort, who will include sustainability modules into their curriculum this fall. The cohort complements existing extracurricular and co-curricular initiatives offered through the Office of Sustainability, the Campus Community Garden and the Environmental Resource Center and offers a chance for faculty to become campus leaders in sustainability education.

The Center for Faculty Development, the Office of Sustainability and CommUniverCity hosted an informational workshop for SJSU faculty this spring to offer information about sustainability and how they could apply for a stipend to develop a sustainability module for their courses.

“There are many different definitions of sustainability,” said SJSU Professor of Geology and Science Education Ellen Metzger, who helped organize the initiative. “In our workshop, we defined it in terms of the three ‘e’s: economy, equity and environment. We used those three pillars to invite faculty to envision where their discipline might connect to one of the themes of sustainability.”

The workshop also highlighted the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs provide a “global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future” and supply a framework for interdisciplinary teaching and learning about sustainability. Earlier this year, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which measure worldwide progress around SDGS, ranked SJSU in the top 30 universities among U.S. universities and in the top 500 internationally.

While students have many opportunities to learn about sustainability on and off campus, the faculty cohort ensures that Spartans can learn discipline-specific applications in areas such as hospitality and tourism management, business development, mechanical engineering and more.

“Higher education has a transformative influence on society, and if we want to empower students to become agents of change, it’s going to require us rethinking how we do things,” said Metzger.

“Universities, both in terms of teaching and research, are really well-poised to lead this reframing. What do we want the future to look like? If we want to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we must accept that nothing will change unless education changes.”

The desire to become campus sustainability leaders is evident at SJSU. More faculty applied to participate in the inaugural cohort than could be accommodated this fall. Metzger said that the applications demonstrated a hunger to emphasize sustainability in all disciplines — great news, considering that the Office of Sustainability hopes to continue the cohort program indefinitely.

The Campus Community Garden is just one of the many sustainability initiatives at SJSU. Photo by David Schmitz.

“Our campus has made amazing progress to make our facilities sustainable, from incorporating recycled water in all of our non-potable uses to installing solar panels on every suitable surface. I think this initiative builds on that foundation,” said Senior Utility and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering.

Participating faculty will receive a $500 professional development grant courtesy of PepsiCo and are encouraged to share their experiences with other faculty at future Center for Faculty Development workshops.

“We have always offered amazing courses in every college that focus on sustainability, showing that it can and should be incorporated into every department,” continued Andres. “But we have never had a formal cohort dedicated to curriculum development. We saw how successful and well-attended our workshop was and we plan on this being the start of annual workshops.”

“Together faculty can help students develop the skills, knowledge and outlooks that will help them see themselves as change agents and offer opportunities to make a difference,” added Metzger.

Learn more about SJSU’s sustainability initiatives.

San José State University Hosts First CSU-Wide Grad Slam

California State University Grad Slam 2021

Graduate students often invest years of their lives working on focused, in-depth research in their field. Ultimately, they must successfully defend their conclusions to a select committee of faculty advisors with expertise in that area of study.

Now, imagine what it would be like to distill the key ideas of that yearlong research into a presentation that is accessible and interesting for everyone — and do it in three minutes or less.

That’s exactly what graduate students from across 12 California State University (CSU) campuses will do in the first-ever CSU Grad Slam on May 6, hosted by San José State.

Grad Slam is a fast-paced, dynamic competition in which graduate students across all fields face off for the top short presentation of research. The event offers the opportunity for up-and-coming student-researchers to showcase their scholarship and creativity, while challenging them to effectively convey their work in three-minute snackable sound bites to a non-specialist audience.

The system-wide event is a collaborative effort across many of the CSU campuses. Those participating include: Bakersfield, Chico, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Sacramento, San José, San Francisco, and Sonoma State.

As the founding university of the CSU system and its leadership in graduate education, San José State is a natural fit to host the inaugural competition. SJSU held its first Grad Slam in 2019, a few short months after the university’s launch of the College of Graduate Studies that January.

The main event

According to SJSU’s College of Graduate Studies Dean Marc d’Alarcao, the creation of this year’s CSU-wide competition encouraged a number of the other CSUs to create their own Grad Slam, from which they will send their top two winners to the system event.

A total of 21 participants from across the 12 campuses will present their research in this year’s livestream virtual competition. San José State is sending its top two winners from the SJSU Grad Slam, which occurred on April 29: Guadalupe “Lupe” Franco (first place) from the MS Environmental Studies program and Remie Gail Mandawe (second place) from the MS Physiology program.

Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

(L-R) SJSU 2021 Grad Slam Winners Lupe Franco and Remie Gail Mandawe.

Franco’s presentation, “Wicked Problems: Understanding How Cities and Counties in California are Tackling Climate Change and Homelessness, emphasizes the need for jurisdictions and planners to “create equitable and just strategies that include the voices of unhoused populations and gain them the access to basic resources needed to protect them from climate change.”

Mandawe’s presentation, “Targeting the Source of our Sixth Sense Using Blue Light” explores how to target and isolate gamma motor neurons in the brain using blue light and better understand why motor dysfunction and motor neuron diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, occur.

The CSU Grad Slam will start with preliminary rounds in the morning, in which small groups of the competitors will present live in three “rooms” over Zoom to panels of three judges. The top-scoring students from each room will advance to the afternoon round for the chance to win one of three cash prizes: first place, second place and the People’s Choice award.

The public can watch the event online and vote on the People’s Choice award in real time during the final segment of the program. Three different judges will score the afternoon’s competitors.

Although there will ultimately be only three winners, everyone who participates gains tremendous benefits from the process. Not only are the graduate students able to develop vital research communication and presentation skills, they can engage with and be inspired by other emerging researchers.

“I think it is beneficial to the graduate students to feel appreciated and have the opportunity to see what their colleagues are doing in a concise and interesting way,” said d’Alarcao.

“It’s invigorating to realize that you’re part of an intellectual community that has all of these different things happening, and that’s really positive for the participants.”

Register today to see CSU’s top graduate student research.

Dreaming of a Greener Silicon Valley

“Most living Christmas tree programs just offer potted trees that eventually die in pots or in backyards where they shouldn’t have been planted,” says Tree Care Manager Kevin Lee, ’11 BS, ’16 MS Environmental Studies. (Christina Olivas photo)

Many South Bay lots boast Christmas conifers this time of year, but the trees at one sprawling lot stand apart. At the Our City Forest nonprofit nursery on Spring Street, you’ll find Spartans engaged in a novel effort to make a greener, merrier Silicon Valley through a new Holiday Rent-A-Tree program.

Come January, the majority of the 30 million trees that are cut and sold every year in the United States get tossed out with the trash. Bringing a living tree into your home allows you to enjoy the look and smell of a real tree with less waste, clean-up and fire hazard—and without the carbon footprint of artificial trees, 80 percent of which are imported from China.

“Most living Christmas tree programs just offer potted trees that eventually die in pots or in backyards where they shouldn’t have been planted,” says Tree Care Manager Kevin Lee, ’11 BS, ’16 MS Environmental Studies. “What makes our program different is that we offer specific trees that do well in San Jose; after the holidays, we’ll take them back and plant them in community parks and at schools where they will thrive.”


After the holidays, the Rent-A-Tree program will plant the evergreens at parks and schools. (Christina Olivas photo)

While you won’t find a Noble Fir at the Our City Forest nursery, the organization does offer 10 different Christmas tree species, such as the Deodar Cedar. Like the two mature Deodar Cedars towering some 80 feet over Tower Lawn, the potted Deodars have fine, blue-green needles. About hip high, they will run you $25 (tax deductible) for the holiday season. A long-term goal of the program is to let renters know where their Christmas trees are planted so they can visit them and watch them grow.

Lee is one of four SJSU grads working for the nonprofit—which has planted about 60,000 trees in the area since its 1994 inception—and his love for trees goes far beyond the holidays.

“Trees are my passion,” says Lee. Originally a bio major, Lee switched to environmental science and “everything fell into place.” Strolling among the 200 Christmas trees available for holiday rental with canine nursery mascots Bodie and Poppy following at his heels, Lee says, “I’m in a master’s program now for additional learning opportunities, but this is my dream job.”

Visit Our City Forest for more information or to reserve your tree.

Anne Lawrence today.

Faculty Notes: A Family Tradition of Excellence and Service

530 Lawrence

In 1998, Paul Lawrence received the Distinguished Contributor Award from the North American Case Research Association. At the same meeting, Anne (pictured with her father and mother, Martha) received an outstanding case award. Now a professor at SJSU, Anne has received the same award as her father, an honor bestowed just 15 times in 56 years (photo courtesy of the Lawrence family).

Professor of Design Alice Carter, founder of the Animation/Illustration Program, lectured on “The Illustrator and the Hero: Inventing a Mythology in Pictures” at the Haggin Museum in Stockton on Nov. 6. The presentation explored America’s fascination with superheroes, “very much an American invention,” Carter noted.

Music Lecturer and Director of Orchestra and Opera Theater Michael DiGiacinto is Winchester Orchestra of San Jose’s new music director, succeeding Henry Mollicone who held the post for more than 25 years. DiGiacinto made his debut with the orchestra at San Jose’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Saratoga’s West Valley College in concerts featuring the works of Jean Sibelius, Wolfgang Mozart and Dmitri Shostakovich.

Anne Lawrence today.

Anne Lawrence today (photo by Jane Richey).

Professor of Management Anne Lawrence received the North American Case Research Association’s Distinguished Contributor Award in recognition of her leadership as the organization’s president, her two-time guest editorship of Case Research Journal, her case publications and mentorship. In addition, she founded and currently serves as chair of the Case Research Foundation, whose mission is to provide scholarships to young case writers and researchers. The Distinguished Contributor Award is NACRA’s highest honor and has been awarded only 15 times in the group’s 56-year history. Because her father received the award in 1998, the honor “was especially meaningful,” Lawrence said. “My father was my first case teacher.”

Environmental Studies Lecturer Pat Ferraro, whose expertise is water law, water policy and water resources management, is a member of the Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Committee’s review panel. His article about Santa Cruz’s “smart approach” to water conservation appeared in San Jose Inside last month.

After 35 years at SJSU, Jeanne Linsdell retired as General Engineering lecturer and director of the College of Engineering’s Technical Communication. “Life is full of new beginnings and new opportunities,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a new chapter.” An educator and consultant in American Samoa for more than 20 years and former Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Ukraine, Linsdell received Outstanding Lecturer awards from the university and the College of Engineering during her career at SJSU.

SJSU’s Collaborative for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child, directed by Elementary Education Professor Nancy Markowitz, received a $100,000 Packard Foundation / Ashoka Changemaker Award in recognition of the collaborative’s efforts to build vibrant communities and equip young people to become leaders of change. The collaborative will use the award to develop a model for integrating social and emotional learning in K-12 schools and educator training.

Humanities Lecturer Victoria Rue delivered the Kappen Memorial lecture in Bengaluru, India, sponsored by Visthar, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating women, children and other marginalized groups about their rights. Rue spoke on “Rehearsing Justice: Theatre, Sexuality and the Sacred,” a discourse on the cultural and religious taboos imposed on gender and sexuality.

Playwright and Associate Professor of Communication Studies Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s novel “The Kite Runner” is currently on tour in the UK, co-produced by the Nottingham Playhouse and the Liverpool Playhouse. An earlier version of the play was performed on campus in 2007. “The book has a huge following and people who come to see the play are going to notice the changes,” Spangler acknowledged. “You have to be faithful to its essence, but you can’t put everything in. Fortunately, Khaled Hosseini is a very generous person.”

scott's cover

Scott Sublett’s “Screenwriting for Neurotics”

Professor  of Screenwriting and Film Studies Scott Sublett published “Screenwriting for Neurotics: A Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Feature-Length Screenplay from Start to Finish” (University of Iowa Press). (SJSU students previously made do with the dog-eared, photocopied course reader version of the book.) “It’s the only screenwriting text on the market that also addresses the psychology of the screenwriter,” said Sublett’s editor, Elisabeth Chretien. Sublett is also an independent filmmaker whose films include “Generic Thriller” and “Bye-Bye Bin Laden!,” which satirizes the build-up to the Iraqi War.

SJSU Research Foundation senior research scientist Grant Taylor, whose work supports the Aviation and Missile Research Development Center, received the 2014 Jerome H. Ely Human Factors Article Award at the annual meeting of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society in Chicago. His applied research focuses on the impact of new technologies on U.S. Army users, specifically the interfaces used to control unmanned aerial systems.

San Jose Mercury News: Cooperative Effort Helps Western Burrowing Owl Population Rebound

Posted Nov. 12, 2014 by the San Jose Mercury News.

By Alia Wilson

Between the Zanker Materials Recovery and Landfill, the San Jose Water Pollution Control Plant and a business park lies an unsuspecting haven for wildlife.

Some 180 acres of dedicated habitat have been maintained and improved specifically to cater to the western burrowing owl, a California Bird Species of Special Concern.

The open grassland with patches of wildflowers and man-made dirt berms have breathed new life into the previously dwindling owl population.

The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, members of the San Jose State University Environmental Studies Department and San Jose’s Environmental Services staff have worked for two years to protect the owl, and the effort is paying off big time.

Read the full story.

Mint Press News: Study Shows Fracking Sucks Up Freshwater At Alarming Rate

Posted by Mint Press News Oct. 31, 2013

Fracking in the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania and West Virginia do not only use millions of gallons of water per operation, according to a new report. The study also shows that operations fail to return almost all that water to its purified form.

The report, from San Jose State University, focused on water use and reporting in hydraulic fracturing in the states — and discovered that more than 90 percent of the water injected into the ground during the fracking process is lost from the hydrologic cycle.

That water is largely taken from freshwater sources. More than 80 percent of water used in West Virginia fracking operations comes from lakes and streams — in Pennsylvania, 70 percent is derived from freshwater sources.

While the Marcellus Shale formation doesn’t suffer from severe drought, other fracking sites throughout the nation do. With such vast amounts of water being taken — and never returned — the process is perpetuating concerns over drought and aquatic habitats.

“[This is relevant for] other shale basins across the U.S. where there is a bit more concern about the availability year-round, not just during times of stress,” said SJSU professor Dustin Mulvaney.

Read the full story.

Charlotte Sunseri, Ninian Stein and Dustin Mulvaney bring new scholarship to campus (Robert Bain photo).

New Faculty Share Their Scholarship With Students

Charlotte Sunseri, Ninian Stein and Dustin Mulvaney bring new scholarship to campus (Robert Bain photo).

Charlotte Sunseri, Ninian Stein and Dustin Mulvaney bring new scholarship to campus (Robert Bain photo).

(Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from the fall 2011 College of Social Sciences newsletter, “Together: Exploring What Can Be,” Michael Haederle, editorial consultant. )

The four new assistant professors joining the College of Social Sciences faculty this semester bring diverse and ambitious research agendas that underscore the breadth of the college’s academic mission.

Dustin Mulvaney comes to the Environmental Studies department with an interest in renewable energy technologies and their impacts. Altovise Rogers brings to the Psychology faculty her expertise in industrial/organizational psychology. In the Anthropology department, Charlotte Sunseri researches how long-ago Californians interacted with their environment, while Ninian Stein studies old industrial buildings through archaeological lens.

“With our four bright and talented new professors on board, we look forward to an exciting future for CoSS,” Dean Sheila Bienenfeld says. “These scholars are multi-talented, and bring multiple disciplinary perspectives to their work.”

Mulvaney, a New Jersey native, started out in chemical engineering and worked for a chemical company before changing directions and earning his Ph.D. in environmental studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

He developed an interest in the politics of regulation and the balance between innovation and risk. “That got me started thinking about the implications of emerging technologies,” he says. “How do we think about balancing innovation against risk?”

A particular interest involves new innovations in photovoltaic manufacturing. Newer, more efficient solar panels use toxic compounds involving dangerous heavy metals like cadmium and selenium, Mulvaney says. But what happens when it comes time to recycle devices made from these substances?

“We might have an e-waste crisis with solar materials,” Mulvaney says. “These are the kinds of things you might want to think about when you’re innovating in this PV space.”

Rogers became interested in industrial/organizational psychology while an undergraduate at Rice University. On her way to earning a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, Rogers consulted for a variety of businesses, including oil and gas companies, which have elaborate training programs in highly complex technical procedures for their newly hired engineers.

“It’s kind of hard-core training,” she explains, explaining that safety is a critical concern in the industry.

These days, her research interests are veering toward the impact of rapidly evolving mobile communications and social networking on the workplace, where employees increasingly mix personal and business activities. “I’d like to know how that shapes culture and attitudes,” she says.

As she takes on a mixed undergraduate/graduate teaching load this semester, Rogers attributes her commitment to academia in part to her family’s influence.
While studying for her Ph.D. in anthropology at UC Santa Cruz, Sunseri focused on Native Americans in Central California in the centuries before European contact. “I was interested in the subsistence of some of these hunter-gatherer groups that were presumed to be small and mobile,” she says. In fact, there was evidence of sophisticated trade networks in the region.

Her new research interest focuses on the mostly vanished town of Mono Mills in the eastern Sierra Nevadas.

“I’m interested in how they created community from these different backgrounds,” says Sunseri.

She hopes that uncovering material culture will shed light on how people in Mono Mills lived. “It can tell us such a different story and give us such a different picture of day-to-day life,” she says.

Stein shares Sunseri’s interest in archaeology and has co-led a dig at a Colonial-era site in Rhode Island, but in recent years she has focused on the untold stories of old New England factories and warehouses.

Stein studied anthropology and environmental studies at Brown University, earned master’s degrees at Harvard (anthropology) and Yale (environmental science) and completed her Ph.D. in anthropology-archaeology at Brown in 2007.

Stein fell in love with archaeology as a child. As her interests matured, she became interested in “understanding how humans related to their environments over time, how they impacted their environments and how they’ve been impacted by their environments.”

Stein is casting an eye around San José for older industrial structures. “I’m on the hunt now for a good site, particularly one where the future is uncertain,” she says. “I’m interested in a site close to campus.”

Oakland Tribune: Recycling Expert Advises, "Just Do the Best You Can, and Enjoy Your Holiday"

All that glitters isn’t recycling gold

Published by the Oakland Tribune Dec. 23, 2011.

By Angela Hill

It’s a mystery wrapped in cellophane, swaddled in Bubble Wrap, stuffed in a cardboard box and adorned with a festive metallic color-changing fiber-optic bow: What the holiday hoopla do you do with all the gift-wrap leftovers?

A lot of people have no clue, says Bruce Olszewski, director of the Center for Development of Recycling at San Jose State University.

“When I go to various relatives’ houses for gift-giving, I see some look at the wrapping in puzzlement, trying to figure out how to recycle it,” he says. “Some just grab and shove everything in garbage can. And then I panic when I see someone going to the fireplace with it all — a lot of wrapping papers have metals in them, and you don’t want to be inhaling that stuff.”

To be sure, most of us here in the eco-supportive Bay Area are confident about recycling tin cans and plastic bottles. But we rarely deal with sparkly ribbon curling around a package or plastic film embracing a plate of gingerbread men.

Not only is proper disposal a mystery, but holiday waste is a big problem. Some estimates put the additional waste generated by the holidays at nearly 25 million tons, in this country alone.

“We should encourage everyone to reuse things,” Olszewski says. “This is what our parents and grandparents used to do. And they got along just fine.”

It doesn’t have to be a burden. Make it easy, especially during the holidays. Put out a bag for recycling when you’re opening gifts. And make it fun. Have your kids check out recycling websites and tell you what to do.

And above all, Olszewski says, don’t stress about it.

“If you occasionally put something in the wrong bin, you’re not going to go to environmental hell. You don’t have to be perfect. Just do the best you can, and enjoy your holiday.”

So in the spirit of giving to the planet — or at least not giving it grief — we present you with some tips on what to do when you find yourself surrounded by a mountain range of festive refuse. Be advised, each city and county have different recycling requirements, so double check with waste collectors in your area.

Wrapping paper

Recyclable if it’s just paper. But if covered with sparkles or metallic foil designs, it’s a composite material and not easily recycled. In that case, put it in the trash, or save it and use it again next year as most thrifty moms usually suggest anyway.

Ribbons and bows

Non-recyclable. Reuse next year, or throw in the trash. “A big problem with ribbon is not just what it’s made of, but its actual physical structure — stringy stuff gets wrapped up in the recycling machinery and jams it,” says Rebecca Jewell, recycling program manager for Waste Management at the Davis Street Recycling Center in San Leandro.


Non-recyclable. Packaging tape or even Scotch tape clogs recycling equipment. Throw it in the trash. “Tape is just plastic with goop on it,” Olszewski says.

Christmas lights

Non-recyclable. They also wrap around machinery. Some cities have special drop-off sites for discarded strands. There’s currently a drop-off kiosk for lights at San Jose’s “Christmas in the Park” event, says Cecilia Rios, acting supervisor for the city’s Recycle Plus program.

Cardboard boxes

Recyclable. But even better, reuse them. Cardboard tubes and tissue paper should also be put in the recycle bin.

Bubble Wrap

Non-recyclable because it’s made of multiple plastics. Either reuse it, put it in the trash or check with packaging stores and delivery companies.

Some will accept clean Bubble Wrap, assuming you haven’t popped all the bubbles in a frenzy of furious festive popping.


People know this as Styrofoam, the brand name for those solid white chunks that hold electronic components and other things safely in place. Generally non-recyclable, but some cities will accept it. Otherwise, reuse or trash.

Packing peanuts

Non-recyclable. Reuse, trash or try to return to a packaging company. Whatever you do, bag it up so it doesn’t fly out during trash pickup. It can end up in storm drains and be ingested by wildlife.

Cellophane, plastic wrap

Reuse or trash, or take to the grocery store with your plastic bag recycling, Jewell says.

Hard plastic

“Clamshell” packaging, also known as the kind that’s impossible to get into without a blowtorch, usually recyclable, but varies per city.

Food waste

Many cities accept food scraps in the same bins for lawn clippings.

Some offer drop-off sites for excess cooking oil from deep frying.

Earth-Friendly ideas

In case you’re still wrapping gifts or planning ahead for next year, consider the immortal words of a certain mid-epiphany Grinch: Christmas “came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
While that’s truly an environmentalist’s dream, a naked gift isn’t very festive. So try some other ways of wrapping and presenting presents. Such kindness to nature might help your heart grow three sizes today. Here are some ideas from the Center for the Development of Recycling:
Try reusable baskets, tins, scarves, gift bags, boxes, fabric bags. Make the wrapping part of the gift. Use comics for kids’ gifts, the finance section of the newspaper for a wallet, or the Home & Garden section for a household item.
Decorate grocery bags or butcher paper with old cards, crayon drawings or rubber stamp prints.
Trim gifts with dried flowers, pine cones, cotton yarn, twine, shoelaces, hair ribbons, paper or fabric ribbons.
When shipping gifts, pack with air-popped popcorn, newspaper or scrap paper.
Use old greeting card cutouts for gift tags.
Save boxes to use year after year. Between holidays, you can use them to store ornaments or ribbon.
Mail old holiday cards to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children, Recycled Card Program, 100 St. Jude’s St., Boulder City, NV 89005. The kids earn money by creating new cards from the old.

recycling info

Santa Clara County:
Alameda County:
Contra Costa County:
State of California:
Electronic recycling:
Center for the Development of Recycling:, 800-533-8414

Metallic ribbon is non-recyclable and can clog recycling machinery. Throw in the trash or save for next year.
Metallic wrapping paper is a composite material and is not easily recycled. Throw in the trash or save for next year.
Bubble Wrap is non-recyclable because it’s made of multiple plastics. Reuse or take to local packaging store.

Fabric ribbon. Save it, iron and reuse next year.

An old road map, held with only three small pieces of tape, makes for eco-friendly wrapping, plus it can be thrown in the recycle bin.
Packing peanuts: non-recyclable. Reuse, trash or try to return to a packaging company.
Gift tags made from old Christmas cards
is a great way to recycle.

Flashing fiber-optic holiday bow with battery, attached with tape, is non-recyclable and should be disposed of or saved for next year.

portrait of Art Dunklin

Arthur Dunklin Diversity Award Winners Named

portrait of Art Dunklin

The award recognizes individuals who reflect the work of the late Arthur Dunklin, an SJSU staff member who was dedicated to creating a welcoming, inclusive and supportive campus climate.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

President Mohammad Qayoumi and the Campus Climate Committee are pleased to announce the recipients of the first Arthur Dunklin Diversity Awards. There are four awards, one each for a student, staff member, faculty member and administrator.

“It was gratifying to receive so many nominations of individuals who embody the principles of inclusive excellence,” the committee said. “Thank yous go to all the faculty, staff, students, and administrators who help to make San Jose State University a place of deep mutual respect for all.”

The Campus Climate Committee received nominations and reviewed the qualifications of all nominees. The recipients are:

  • Yan Yin K. Choy, Student, Environmental Studies
  • Maribel Martinez, Staff, Associated Students
  • Kathleen Roe, Professor, Health Science
  • Debra Griffith, Administrator, Educational Opportunity Program

Please join us in congratulating these individuals at the awards ceremony scheduled for 4-5 p.m. Wednesday, October 12, at the Smith/Carlos sculpture lawn area. Please RSVP by emailing Melanie Schlitzkus at

Yan Yin K. Choy has been studying environmental studies and anthropology with a focus on the barriers and benefits of sustainable food systems, service-learning, and community engagement. She has been empowered by her peers, mentors, and kindred to advocate for diversity, human rights, and food security through spoken word, community theatre, and nonviolent direct action. Yan Yin now serves as the Associated Students of SJSU director of student rights and responsibilities, community intern with the SJSU Women’s Resource Center organizer for the 10th annual performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” and multimedia coordinator of the first South Bay Womyn’s Conference.

Maribel Martinez joined the staff of the Associated Students of SJSU in 2007 as the first full-time employee to head the Cesar E. Chavez Community Action Center. Prior to SJSU, she worked in the non-profit field focusing on leadership development, community organizing and outreach. She is an alumna of SJSU with studies is political science, sociology and applied anthropology, and is a former AS President. As an artist, Ms. Martinez uses theatre, spokenword, music and visual arts to explore complex social issues in the community.

Dr. Kathleen Roe earned all her degrees from the UC Berkeley, culminating in a doctorate in public health, before joining the Department of Health Science in 1988 and serving as chair since 2001. Over her career, Dr. Roe has been involved in many community-based education and research projects including Salud Familiar en McKinley; the Intercambio of the Department of Health Science, the McKinley community, and a pueblo of artisans in Arrazola, Oaxaca, Mexico; and, for over 12 years, the process evaluator for the San Francisco HIV Prevention Planning Council. Among her numerous awards, Dr. Roe is the recipient of the College of Applied Sciences and Arts’ Faculty Award for Commitment to Equity and Diversity, the Outstanding Professor of SJSU in 2002, and in May, Dean Charles Bullock selected Salud Familiar as the 2011 recipient of the prestigious Dean’s Award, the College of Applied Sciences and Art’s highest recognition.

Debra Y. Griffith is the current director of the Educational Opportunity Program at SJSU. From 2001-2003, she served as a resident director in University Housing Services. She was named the director of the Office of Student Conduct and Ethical Development in 2003, where she managed student discipline and led educational, proactive programming for seven years. Ms. Griffith received a bachelor’s from Long Island University-Brooklyn Campus and a master’s from SJSU. Currently, she is a doctoral candidate in organizational leadership at Argosy University.