Whendee Silver created a “garbage to grasslands” project that captures organic waste and applies it to rangelands. This project will serve as a catalyst for engaging the public and policy makers in land-based climate change mitigation.

Whendee Silver is a Professor of Ecosystem Ecology and Biogeochemistry at UC Berkeley and holds the Rudy Grah Chair in Forestry and Sustainability. She holds an MS in Forest Science and a PhD in Ecosystem Ecology from Yale University. Whendee was selected as a Leopold Leadership Fellow in 2009 and a Google Science Communication Fellow in 2011. The Silver Lab received the Innovation Award in 2015 by the American Registry recognizing their work on climate change mitigation. 

To learn more about Whendee and her lab visit her website.

Whendee’s work is bridging the gap between basic and applied science.

Broadly, her research investigates the causes, consequences, and potential solutions to climate change. Her research focuses on soils, and uses a wide range of approaches to attain her broader goals. For instance, she investigates biogeochemical dynamics as well as climate change mitigation, which directly effects policy. In addition, Whendee is the lead scientist of the Marin Carbon Project. This project is a consortium of landowners, managers, state and private agencies, and scientists that use land-based solutions to slow climate change.

Whendee implemented the “garbage to grasslands” project. This project is derived from the Marin Carbon Project, for which she is the lead scientist. “Garbage to grasslands” takes organic waste from her campus, composts it and applies it to surrounding rangelands. Not only does this reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste management, but it also increases carbon storage in soils in these rangelands. It sets an example for successful land-based climate change mitigation.

Whendee is engaging the wider campus community, her colleagues at other UC schools, and the local community to explore other mitigation approaches. She is sharing her skills with agencies, the public, and policy makers to motivate others on how they can contribute to mitigation. Most importantly, Whendee’s efforts demonstrate that we are not helpless in this fight against climate change.

“Garbage to Grasslands”
in Action

Steaming compost in a green field

Steaming compost from waste generated at the UC Berkeley campus that is applied to surrounding rangelands. This compost increases carbon storage in the soil and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Credit: Sintana Vergara, Postdoctoral researcher in the Silver Lab


What is a common misperception from non-scientists about climate research?

The misconception that worries me the most is when people think that climate change is something that might happen in the future—many people don’t realize that it is happening now and that we need to act now to keep our climate within tolerable limits.

What is the most rewarding part about being a UC Climate Action Champion?

The most rewarding part of being a Climate Action Champion is getting to know and work with a diverse group of students, scientists, policy makers, and stakeholders all focused on climate change mitigation. There is a lot of knowledge and energy in this collaboration directed at solving complex climate change problems.

What do you hope your project contributes to your university, the UC-system, and society?

I hope that our research will help our campus, and society as a whole, change their behavior with regards to patterns of consumption and land use practices. I look forward to a world where it is normal and natural to embrace sustainability in our everyday lives, and where great UC faculty, students, and collaborators/others work together to devise approaches to lower greenhouse gas emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a safe and sustainable manner.

What is one thing you want to tell non-scientists about climate change?

I want people to know that by simple changes in their everyday activities (such as putting food, paper, and green waste in a green compost bin instead of a landfill bin) can contribute to slowing climate change. I want people to realize that climate change is happening now, that we need to work together to solve this problem, and that they can and need to participate if we are to realize solutions.


• Demonstrated that applying compost to grassland can increase grass growth and soil carbon storage, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

• Worked with policy makers to identify potential organic waste diversion to compost amendments in California.

• Worked with UC Berkeley students and staff and land managers to develop plan for waste diversion, composting, and land application.

Whendee Silver smiles while standing next to compost and recycling bins indoors
"I want people to know that by simple
changes in their everyday activities
(such as putting food, paper, and green
waste in a green compost bin instead
of a landfill bin) can contribute to
slowing climate change."
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