Safer sanitation in food and beverage manufacturing and processing

With funding from U.S. EPA, ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) is working with the food and beverage manufacturing and processing sector to help them reduce their energy consumption, water use, hazardous materials use, and operating costs. Cleaning and sanitation is a critical process throughout the industry and is one that is ripe for improvement.

By law, all food and beverage manufacturers and processors must have reliable processes in place to keep their products safe for human consumption. They are usually outlined in Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) and Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOPs). Cleaning and sanitation is critical in food safety to protect the processing environment from being inhabited by harmful microorganisms.

Cleaning and sanitation removes the food that bacteria need to grow and destroys any bacteria that may be present. The right prescription depends on the composition of food soils and the surface characteristics. The typical order for cleaning/sanitizing activities is:

  1. Dry clean
  2. Rinse
  3. Clean
  4. Rinse
  5. Sanitize

Common cleaning and sanitizing compounds include acids, alkali, phosphates and chlorine. In-plant storage, handling, and application of cleaning and sanitation compounds can be hazardous to workers. These products can also generate large volumes of wastewater and treatment costs to ensure that all post-sanitizing chemical residues are washed away.

Ozone generator
Ozone generator

With these challenges in mind, ISTC is working with the food and beverage industry to help clients identify and adopt safer, more environmentally benign cleaning and sanitation solutions, including aqueous ozone and electrolyzed water (EW).

Ozone has been widely studied as an anti-microbial for food application in this sector. It is approved for use by the FDA, USDA, FSIS, EPA and OSHA.

Electrolyzed water generator
Electrolyzed water generator

EW exhibits strong bactericidal, fungicidal, and viricidal effects in specific food applications but has not been as widely tested as ozone. It is approved in organic production and handling by USDA and received a Food Contact Notice (No. 1811) by the FDA for application of supplier specific technology to meat, poultry, fish, seafood; fruits and vegetables.

ISTC has a mobile aqueous ozone generator available to demonstrate the effectiveness of this technology. If your company is interested in learning more or scheduling a demonstration, contact Troy Walker or Dan Marsch.

Registration is open for the 2020 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference

The 2020 Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference (ECEC20) will be on April 21-22, 2020, at the I Hotel and Conference Center in Champaign, IL. Registration is open through April 2 and scholarships for undergraduate students are available.

The conference will feature presentations and posters on the latest in emerging contaminant research, policies, and outreach in the soil, water, and air. There will also be plenty of opportunities for discussion and networking with those interested in all aspects of emerging contaminants in the environment.

Researchers, educators, businesses, government officials, regulatory agencies, policy makers, outreach and extension professionals, environmental groups, members of the general public, and medical, veterinary, and public health professionals are encouraged to submit abstracts and attend the conference.

Forest Preserve District of Cook County wins Best Green Practices Award for sustainability and climate resiliency plan

The Forest Preserve District of Cook County recently won an Illinois Association of Park Districts Best Green Practices Award for their sustainability and climate resiliency plan. The plan calls for the Forest Preserve to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80 percent by 2050

ISTC’s technical assistance team collaborated with them to gather information and develop the document.

Solar panel disposal problem surges as solar energy use grows

By Lisa Sheppard

Solar energy panels can be recycled, but most end up in landfills. How to handle broken or older panels in Illinois is a challenge that takes a statewide collaboration to figure out, according to Jennifer Martin, coordinator of the Solar Module Recycling Initiative at the University of Illinois’ Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC).

Solar modules used at solar energy farms and in homes are made from different technologies, all with valuable, recoverable, recyclable materials. No national regulations exist on how to discard panels, but some may contain toxic compounds such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead that can leach into the environment if landfilled.

In addition, the large size of solar panels can potentially fill up landfill sites quickly.

Given that solar power is the fastest growing energy source nationwide, and with a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, solar panels installed in the 2000s and before will soon need to be replaced. Also, panels that are broken in shipping or damaged by storms will be disposed of.

With around 360,000 modules currently installed in Illinois, an additional 6 million solar panels will be installed in Illinois by 2025, posing a significant solid waste problem by mid-century.

“Solar energy is a relatively new industry in the Midwest,” Martin said. “There are many factors that make it difficult to predict the number of solar modules that will come offline in Illinois. However, this looming threat is an opportunity to figure out how to prepare now for recycling and reuse options before a plan is urgently needed.”

Through the ISTC initiative, Martin is working with stakeholders in various national and state organizations to find solutions to the solid waste disposal of solar modules. Organizations include the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and others. To date, less than 1 percent of decommissioned solar modules are being recycled, according to SEIA.

The collaborators are working to determine the best options for states to prepare for end-of-life solar recycling and reuse. Predicting the amount of waste headed for the landfills is important, as well as finding locations to recycle the waste.

Some of the specific challenges with developing a recycling plan is the lack of publicly available information on recycling and recovery costs and the basic infrastructure necessary to collect and transport the modules to recycling centers once they become obsolete.

Modules that have declined to about 70 percent effectiveness can still have a useful life and be reused for schools, nonprofit agencies, and other users.

Washington State was the first to pass a solar stewardship bill requiring manufacturers selling solar modules to have an end-of-life recycling program for their products. Through this program, regional take-back locations accept panels with no cost to solar panel system owners.

New Jersey’s recently established Solar Panel Recycling Commission has been tasked to investigate options on recycling and other end-of-life management recommendations for the state.

In Illinois, collaborators hope to have a system in place before millions of panels are ready for disposal in the near future.

“The Midwest is a little behind other regions in the U.S. on adopting solar energy,” Martin said. “With this and other initiatives, the Midwest is forging ahead on finding solutions to a problem that will only become more pressing with time.”

Visit the ISTC website to learn more about the initiative and solar energy disposal in Illinois.

Media contacts

  • Jennifer Martin, Environmental Program Development Specialist, 217-300-3593;
  • Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,

Meet Lisa Krause

Lisa Krause recently joined ISTC as a coastal management specialist working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Coastal Management Program. Lisa is happily returning home to Illinois after spending the last decade operating an ecological design/build company in Baltimore, Maryland. In this role, she worked with homeowners to develop landscapes that cycle nutrients, build habitats, and stormwater water interception. She also taught community workshops on these topics at urban farms, garden clubs, and community spaces throughout the state.

Lisa’s passion for resilience planning in communities led her to pursue an M.S. in Ecological Design and Planning at the Conway School of Landscape Design in Massachusetts, which she completed this year. She has authored several master planning projects, including working with the historic coastal village of Mystic, Connecticut on a climate resiliency plan for managing stormwater using green infrastructure, funded through The Nature Conservancy. She created site-specific intervention designs appropriate to the historic village that would mitigate flooding, accommodate increased frequency and severity of storms, and have the greatest impacts on protecting the watershed while creating habitat for wildlife in urban space.

Lisa will be involved in several coastal management projects and programs. She looks forward to providing support to the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative Green Infrastructure Training and Maintenance Workgroup, the Calumet Collaborative Brownfields Working Group, the Sand Management Working Group Regional Demo/Best Management Practices team, and working on the Coastal Water Quality Trends Analysis project. Lisa is enjoying her new role and is looking forward to working collaboratively and helping support sustainable solutions for coastal resilience in our communities all along Lake Michigan.

Composting food waste is localized strategy for landfill diversion

By Lisa Sheppard

Encouraging homeowners to compost their food waste locally yields numerous economic and environmental benefits for communities. University of Illinois researchers have developed a framework to help city planners and community organizations estimate potential cost savings if they can get residents on board.

Almost all food waste generated in the United States ends up in landfills. Until now, most food waste recovery efforts have been focused on business and industry. In a recent case study, Shantanu Pai at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) and co-authors calculated household-generated food waste for each of the 77 community areas in the city of Chicago.

“Using a very conservative estimate, a 10 percent participation rate, we found that composting for Chicago had the capacity to divert 27 percent of food waste generated by residents away from landfills,” Pai said. “This was shocking to us as we weren’t expecting the diversion rate to be that high.”

The benefits of community composting in neighborhoods and backyards include lowering the overall cost of solid waste collection, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing transportation of waste for processing and treatment, and helping extend the life of landfills so that new facilities don’t have to be built.

Yet, technology is geared toward larger systems. Also, a location and pick-up services would have to be determined, and participation rates may remain low in certain areas.

“Like recycling, with composting it’s all about personal choice and the choices that are made in households,” Pai said. “The decision to participate in a composting initiative may have nothing to do with economics or other factors.”

Participation in composting programs has been shown to increase when planners engage residents. The more homeowners know about composting and the benefits, the more likely they are to become involved. Past composting initiatives that provided free composting units and training to residents had high participation rates.

For planners and organizations, the framework consists of several steps. The volume of food waste generated from households can be calculated using the framework tool and U.S. Census data to identify households, housing types, and associated income levels, as higher income households tend to generate more food waste.

A composting plan requires identifying an acceptable location for composting. In most cases, individual composting would be in backyards, but in the Chicago community composting study, for example, compost sites were in parks. Other locations could be urban gardens or farms.

The framework also recommends using a 10 percent participation rate for single households, though local data from solid waste management programs will provide a more accurate estimate.

Finally, planners estimate the effort’s impact, which can be a selling point for local composting. The framework is designed for its ease in calculating impacts.

“In this framework, we’ve used only data that are publicly available,” Pai said. “As long as city and community planners have access to the Internet and to GIS, they should be able to calculate the amount of food waste that can be diverted from landfills. The math is easy.”

Pai noted that localized composting is not preferable to larger-scale waste management efforts. Instead, the framework can be used for information gathering to consider composting a complementary strategy as part of the entire solid waste management plan.

Communities interested in receiving planning support can contact the ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program at 217-333-8940 or via the ISTC web site.

This study was published in the journal Sustainable Cities and Society.

Media contact: Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327,


Food and beverage manufacturers explore new efficiency approaches at ISTC workshop

On October 3,  participants from seven different food manufacturing companies gathered at Thatcher Woods Pavilion in River Forest to learn how to take sustainability to the next level at a workshop sponsored by ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, ComEd, Peoples Gas, and North Shore Gas.

Speakers updated the attendees on:

  • ways to reduce a facility’s environmental footprint and save money with pollution prevention and energy efficiency
  • improving water conservation by ensuring proper water chemistry in water and wastewater treatment systems
  • using aqueous ozone, a safer, more effective alternative to chemical sanitizers
  • LEAN for food and beverage manufacturing
  • utility energy efficiency programs
  • renewable energy opportunities
  • developing a supply-chain sustainability program

Two companies requested a free technical assistance visit during the workshop. If you work for a food or beverage manufacturer and want to improve your operating performance, decrease your costs, and use fewer toxic chemicals, schedule your free on-site assessment today.

Download the workshop presentations here.