USDA accepting applications for Composting and Food Waste Reduction Cooperative Agreements 

Food waste on a white surface.
Image credit: Susannah Townsend from baseimage via Canva for Education

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting applications for Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) pilot projects for fiscal year 2024. The cooperative agreements, using remaining funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, are jointly administered by USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Selected projects will develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans and are part of USDA’s broader efforts to support urban agriculture.

USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) – led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – will accept applications on Grants.gov until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Sept. 4, 2024. Projects must be two years in duration with an estimated start date of June 1, 2025.

Cooperative agreements support projects led by local and tribal governments, schools or other eligible entities that: 

  • Generate compost.
  • Increase access to compost for agricultural producers.
  • Reduce reliance on and limit the use of fertilizer.
  • Improve soil quality.
  • Encourage waste management and permaculture business development.
  • Increase rainwater absorption.
  • Reduce municipal food waste.
  • Divert food waste from landfills. 

Eligible applicants include:

  • Independent school districts
  • Special district governments
  • County governments
  • Public housing authorities/Indian housing authorities
  • Native American tribal governments (Federally recognized)
  • Native American tribal organizations (other than Federally recognized tribal governments)
  • City or township governments

OUAIP will prioritize projects that anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits; incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to farmers, including community gardeners; integrate other food waste strategies, including food recovery efforts, and collaborate with multiple partners. Additional details are available in the  Grants.gov notice.  

In addition to meeting one or more of the above purposes applicants are encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, investment in disadvantaged communities, and climate smart agricultural practices. Priority will be given for each of the following elements that are included in a project:

  • Anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits for the targeted community;
  • Incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to agricultural producers, including community gardeners, school gardens, and producers;
  • Integrate food waste reduction strategies, including innovative food recovery efforts such as, but not limited to, food gleaning, storage, and preservation techniques; and
  • Include a robust plan that describes collaboration with multiple partners.

Webinar  

A pre-recorded webinar will provide an overview of the cooperative agreements’ purpose, project types, eligibility and basic requirements for submitting applications. The webinar will be posted at usda.gov/urban.  

USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the White House also recently announced the National Strategy for Reducing Food Loss and Waste and Recycling Organics as part of President Biden’s whole-of-government approach to tackle climate change, feed people, address environmental justice, and promote a circular economy. 

Contact TAP for assistance if you’re interested in applying for an award. They can help with brainstorming project ideas and identifying potential partners or collaborators.

ISTC researcher selected for University of Illinois Faculty Entrepreneurial Leadership Program

Sebastiano Giardinella, a project engineer with ISTC, has been selected to participate in the 2024 Faculty Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (FELP).

The University of Illinois Faculty Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (FELP) is a professional development program for faculty interested in entrepreneurship as a path to maximize the socio-economic impact of their research and scholarship. The specific goals of the program are:

  • Support entrepreneurship-oriented faculty in their development as entrepreneurs
  • Seed new venture creation from the “bench-up” and early-on in faculty research
  • Create and nurture a community of entrepreneurial faculty colleagues
  • Enhance diversity and inclusion among faculty entrepreneurs

Through these goals, FELP seeks to enhance the University of Illinois’ entrepreneurial ecosystem and nurture a vibrant entrepreneurial community across its campuses. The program is built to be an entry portal into faculty entrepreneurship, and its design is explicitly complementary to NSF I-Corps and other entrepreneurship resources available to faculty.

ISTC provides food waste technical assistance to small businesses in Chicagoland

Compost from spilled food waste on the ground. Image source: Grisha Bruev/Canva
Image source: Grisha Bruev/Canva

In the fall of 2022, University of Illinois Extension received funding from the Extension Foundation USDA-NIFA New Technologies in Ag Extension (NTAE) program for the expansion of its “Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland” project. The goal was to divert food scraps and organic waste from landfills through educational efforts on the benefits of composting. Extension asked the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to partner with them to provide food waste technical assistance to small businesses in the Chicagoland area.

TAP recruited five small businesses to receive assistance in communities overburdened by environmental issues and lacking resources. TAP’s zero waste team did an initial on-site assessment for each business, followed by a food waste audit. Then they prepared a report and worked with each company to help them implement recommendations. Participants were eligible for up to five months of funding to contract with a commercial compost hauling service.

The four companies that contracted with the commercial compost hauler said that they would continue paying for the service after the grant funding expired. The businesses also identified implementation challenges that they faced. These included lack of physical space in the kitchen, consistent communication between staff, and lack of a champion to lead their food waste reduction efforts.

Read the new case study.

ISTC Sustainability Seminar speaker discusses equity, energy, and just transitions

On September 27, ISTC hosted a webinar featuring Benjamin Sovacool, Professor and Founding Director of the Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability and professor at the University of Sussex. 

His presentation introduced just transitions and energy justice as a way to remedy inequality concerns by considering them from multiple perspectives to identify interlinked inequities. This approach points the way toward making low-carbon transitions more sustainable and has direct implications for business practices, supply chains, and energy and climate policy.

Watch the webinar recording and download the speaker’s slides.

Essential pollution prevention publications to celebrate P2 Week

Pollution Prevention (P2) Week begins on Monday. The 2023 theme is Pollution Prevention Works.

In celebration, this post highlights some classic P2 publications. Although these were originally in the published in the 1990s through early 2000s, they contain a trove of useful information to make P2 work in modern industrial facilities.

Want to learn more? Visit the Pollution Prevention 101 LibGuide for a comprehensive guide to pollution prevention and sustainable business resources.

EPA Sector Notebooks (U.S. EPA, late 1990s)
EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) developed the EPA Sector Notebooks to provide chemical profiles of selected industries. Each profile includes information about the processes conducted in the industry, chemical releases and transfers of chemicals, opportunities for pollution prevention, pertinent federal statutes and regulations, and compliance initiatives associated with the sector. Although these notebooks were published in the late 1990s, they still contain a wealth of information about the production processes, environmental impacts, and pollution prevention options for these sectors.

Facility Pollution Prevention Guide (U.S. EPA, 1992)
For those who are interested in and responsible for pollution prevention in industrial or service facilities. Summarizes the benefits of a company-wide pollution prevention program and suggests ways to incorporate pollution prevention in company policies and practices.

Guide to Industrial Assessments for Pollution Prevention and Energy Efficiency (U.S. EPA, 1990)
Presents an overview of industrial assessments and the general framework for conducting them.  It describes combined assessments for pollution prevention and energy and provides guidance for performing them at industrial or other commercial facilities.

The Industrial Green Game: Implications for Environmental Design and Management (National Academies Press, 1997)
This volume examines industrial circulation of materials, energy efficiency strategies, “green” accounting, life-cycle analysis, and other approaches for preventing pollution and improving performance. Corporate leaders report firsthand on “green” efforts at Ciba-Geigy, Volvo, Kennecott, and Norsk Hydro.

Organizational Guide to Pollution Prevention (U.S. EPA, 2001)
This Pollution Prevention (P2) Guide provides information to help organizations get P2 programs started or to re-evaluate existing P2 programs. It presents an alternative method for working on P2 projects and four approaches to implementing a P2 program in an organization.

Pollution Prevention : A Guide to Project and Program Implementation (Illinois Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center, 1999)
This manual serves as an overview for Illinois businesses of all sizes that have chosen to learn more about developing a pollution prevention program.

Searching for the Profit in Pollution Prevention: Case Studies in the Corporate Evaluation of Environmental Opportunities (U.S. EPA, 1998)
This research was initiated to more fully illuminate the challenges facing industry in the adoption of pollution prevention (P2) opportunities, and to identify issue areas that can be studied and addressed by policy-makers and industry. The case studies in this paper describe three P2 projects that were chosen/or analysis precisely because they were in some way unsuccessful. This analysis, based on a small and non-random sampling, is not necessarily representative of the experiences of all companies or all P2 investment possibilities.

ISTC signs CCS open letter to international leaders

ISTC Director Kevin OBrien is one of the signatories on an open letter that outlines the importance of carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the fight against climate change.

While the letter is specifically addressed to international leaders, it is intended to encourage all levels of government and industry to recognize the value of CCS and to collaborate on finding realistic and sustainable solutions that will bring new projects to life across heavy-emitting industries worldwide.

The letter was published by the International CCS Knowledge Centre, which aims to advance the understanding and use of CCS as a means of managing greenhouse gas emissions.

Read the open letter.

Farm to Food Bank project publishes case studies highlighting recent collaborations

Peaches in a wooden crate

The Farm to Food Bank project recently published six case studies of their work with farmers during the 2022 growing season. Each case study includes a summary of the project, as well as lessons learned.

The case studies highlight projects with:

During the 2022 growing season, these six partners delivered over 975,000 pounds of surplus and off-grade fresh produce to food banks and pantries throughout Illinois.

Key takeaways

  • Getting an early, off-season start with farmers markets and growers is essential. It allows farmers markets to introduce the program when growers aren’t as busy. It also allows food banks, food pantries, and growers to have conversations about what crops to plant, especially in areas of the state where the communities are diverse and may have preferences for specific types of produce.
  • Using reusable plastic crates prevents both packaging and food waste.
  • Growers can champion the program and recruit other growers.
  • Farmers can be aggregators. Having one farmer handle communications on behalf of several growers makes it easier for food banks to coordinate delivery and receive a variety of products.
  • Pairing farmers new to growing specialty crops with more experienced growers may help overcome challenges to participation.
  • Matching up harvest schedules with food bank pick-up schedules is essential.
  • When partnering growers directly with food pantries, additional considerations include:
    • how close in proximity they are to each other.
    • ensuring that food delivery and distribution schedules are in synch.
    • relying on food pantries to pick up at the farm presents challenges. Pantries often do not have adequate staff, capacity, or access to large vehicles, which means that some food gets left at the farm.

Learn more about the Farm to Food Bank project on the TAP website and at Feeding Illinois and view the complete list of Farm to Food Bank project publications on IDEALS.

Farm to Food Bank project featured at From Food to Flowers: Everything Local conference

Two workers pack fruit into a crate at Rendleman Orchard.
Photo courtesy of Rendleman Orchards

The Farm to Food Bank project was featured at the recent From Food to Flowers: Everything Local conference in Springfield.

The conference combined the Illinois Food, Farmers Market, and Specialty Crop Conferences and brought together farmers and agribusiness leaders from across the state with other partners throughout the Illinois local food supply chain.

The Thursday evening banquet featured a panel presentation with Feeding Illinois, two Farm to Food Bank producer partners partners (Flamm Orchards and Roth Countryside Produce), The Land of Goshen Community Market, and St. Louis Area Foodbank. The panel discussed how their organizations were involved in the project, what their experiences were like, and what is needed to grow the initiative. During the banquet, Feeding Illinois also presented Rendleman Orchards with a “Friend of the Food Bank” award for their work with Farm to Food Bank.

Watch a video of the banquet program below, which includes remarks by Illinois Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton. The panel discussion starts at 31:00 and the award presentation is at 1:34:00.

Joy Scrogum recognized as P2 Ambassador by National Pollution Prevention Roundtable

The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) has recognized ISTC assistant sustainability scientist Joy Scrogum as the recipient of the 2022 Fred Granek Memorial P2 Ambassador Award.

NPPR established the award in honor of Fred Granek, who suddenly passed away in January, 2014. It recognizes those who travel beyond their own borders to share information, ideas, and technologies that will avoid, eliminate and reduce waste.

Joy works with clients of ISTC’s technical assistance program (TAP) to identify opportunities to alter, improve, or introduce processes, operations, and activities to foster sustainability (including environmental, social, and economic factors). She primarily focuses on zero waste; sustainability planning, goal setting & visioning; communications about sustainability efforts; and stakeholder engagement.

In her twenty-one years at ISTC, she has made a significant impact at the local, state, regional, national, and international level by sharing pollution prevention information, ideas, and technologies. During her tenure, she has:

  • Developed the idea, found campus partners, and successfully applied for seed funding for the Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center for student- and staff-owned electronic devices at the University of Illinois. As of December 2018, the Gadget Garage had diverted a total of 905.2 lbs. of materials from the waste stream through repair and special materials recycling.
  • Managed the International Sustainable Electronics Competition , a student design competition that encouraged students to consider sustainability throughout the product lifecycle when designing electronics, as well as ways to reuse scrap electronic components in new products. 
  • Developed and ran the Green Lunchroom Challenge, a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations, which was funded by a grant from U.S. EPA. Although the project is no longer funded, Joy still maintains a web archive for the project and a blog on related issues.
  • Worked with the University of Illinois College of Engineering to develop and teach a class entitled “Sustainable Technology: Environmental & Social Impacts of Innovations.”
  • Developed and taught a course on reuse as a sustainability strategy for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois.
  • Facilitated networking and information sharing among P2 technical assistance providers at both the regional and national levels through her work with the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable and the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange.

In addition to her work at ISTC, Joy is a board member of the Champaign County Environmental Stewards, an organization that fosters waste reduction and the ability of area citizens to responsibly manage materials by advancing improved local options for recycling, composting food scraps, and the safe and convenient disposal of household hazardous waste.

She also serves on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition’s communications committee. In this role, she promotes IFSC news, as well as general information about food scrap composting and related issues in Illinois and beyond.

Finally, she served on the board of directors for a non-profit that gave rise to the Idea Store, a creative reuse center located in Urbana, IL.