In an ISTC pilot project, several small organizations in Chicago learned that there are better, feasible options for handling wasted food than throwing it away. Composting, for one, works well for businesses that have access to compost hauling services.
The ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) helps businesses and industry find solutions to reduce waste and use sustainable technologies. For this project, TAP staff hoped to make a difference working with owners of small businesses in disadvantaged communities that lack resources and are often overlooked for funding, according to Zach Samaras, ISTC technical assistance engineer and project director. The project is part of the University of Illinois Extension program, Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland.
The five businesses in the case study included the Abiding Love Food Pantry in Zion, IL; Casa Central, a Latino social services agency with a full kitchen on site, located in Humboldt Park; Food He.ro, a Latino-led culinary school and grocery store in the Little Village; Khepri Café, a café and kitchen in Albany Park; and Tom’s Place, a full-service breakfast and lunch restaurant in the Back of the Yards community.
After touring the businesses, Samaras and staff collected, sorted, and weighed two days-worth of waste and recycling to determine how much could be composted. Results showed that more than 60 percent of all material sorted could be handled this way. The waste audit illustrated the amount of waste each day that these businesses produce.
“Most business owners probably think that they don’t waste that much so showing them the data was really eye-opening for them,” Samaras said. “It helped people put into perspective that the amounts get pretty big, pretty fast. It also helped them to get on board, to understand the issue and what they can do about it.”
TAP provided funding for compost hauling services and staff gave individualized recommendations and helped set up compost bins and coordinated services. Some of the challenges to initiate composting and reduce waste by other means were physical space issues in tight kitchens and the importance of staff on different shifts communicating about prioritizing foods for future shifts so less food is wasted.
Samaras did find, though, that kitchen staff were receptive to suggestions. Besides composting, other waste-reduction measures were suggested, such as preventing food waste by highlighting food soon to expire, donating food, and recycling food scraps.
“It tends to be the case that people who work with food are conscious of food waste and want to do a better job, but they are busy folks,” Samaras said. “They don’t have time to be looking up storage techniques.”
One of the five businesses was unable to initiate a composting program because they are located outside of Chicago where there are few compost haulers to service the area. The other four businesses were interested and committed to continuing their program after the funding ends.
Whichever winter holiday(s) you observe, odds are ‘tis the season for gift giving. Even if you don’t observe any of the major winter holidays, you’ll surely think about gifts at some point in the near future to celebrate a special occasion. If you’d like to align your gifts with sustainable values, the following ideas and resources might be helpful. Please note that links and companies mentioned in this post are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as endorsements by ISTC, the Prairie Research Institute, or the University of Illinois.
Give an Experience
Many of us are fortunate enough to have plenty of “stuff” already, and if that’s the case for your intended recipient, consider an alternative to giving them more material goods. Experiences can often be more meaningful and personalized than physical gifts and presenting them can be an opportunity to start a conversation about consumption and its impacts on resource use, though one should not equate gifting experiences with avoiding consumption. Experiences still involve the use of material goods and consumption of resources; e.g., cooking someone their favorite dinner still requires the use of cookware, energy, and ingredients that themselves require natural resources to grow, raise, or manufacture. However, some gifted experiences may use items or resources that you or your recipient already own or would consume regardless of the special occasion. Continuing the previous example, you’re not likely to buy new pots or appliances to cook dinner, and since your recipient would need to eat anyway, there would always be impacts associated with the ingredients for the meal. Of course, other experiences may involve situations outside normal day-to-day circumstances that necessitate the use of resources (e.g., fuel for travel) we would not otherwise consume. Taking a spouse on a dream vacation or treating your best friend to a concert performance by their favorite band are examples. In such instances, it’s important to remember that giving an experience is less about avoiding resource use than shifting human attitudes and focus. The goal when gifting an experience is not to completely avoid consumption–we all consume resources as part of being alive. Rather, giving an experience shifts the focus away from material items as ends in themselves toward human interactions and the associated memories that will endure longer than most physical gifts possibly could. Memories are durable gifts! As a person who cares about sustainability, you can still try to incorporate responsible consumption into the equation if possible—perhaps by using local, sustainably harvested ingredients for the special dinner you’re preparing, buying carbon off-sets for the travel to that dream destination, or taking public transportation to the concert. The key is sharing or fostering experiences fulfills the human need for authentic connection rather than human desires for material goods, and reinforces the idea that relationships matter more than stuff. Valuing relationships between living things (in this case between people) is essential to thinking about ecosystems and the mindset that humans are a part of, rather than apart from, the rest of the natural world. Valuing relationships/connections can build a foundation for more sustainable behavior.
Give to Charity
Another option is to make a donation in honor of your loved one to a charitable organization that resonates with their interests and values. If you aren’t already aware of a specific group dear to their heart, you can search Charity Navigator at https://www.charitynavigator.org/ to find organizations by cause. The results display ratings, if Charity Navigator has adequate information to calculate one, based on “the cost-effectiveness and overall health of a charity’s programs, including measures of stability, efficiency, and sustainability.” You can filter the results by ratings, different aspects of performance (called “Beacons” on the site), state, organization size, and other factors. For example, I entered the term “sustainability” into the site’s search bar with the state filter “IL.” Charity Navigator also produces curated lists of charities, including “Where to Give Now,” “Popular Charities,” and “Best Charities.” As examples, check out the List of Best Women’s Charities, the “Where to Give Now” list for the Hawaii Wildfires, the List of Most Popular Charities. You can of course always enter keywords into Google or another search engine, but you might appreciate having Charity Navigator do some of the virtual “leg work” for you and having their expert analysis.
Note that your donation need not be monetary—you could donate your time or skills through volunteering. You might use your social media experience to help with promotion and online engagement for the literacy program for which your wife works, for example. You might even combine supporting a good cause important to your loved one with gifting an experience. For example, you might arrange to volunteer with an animal-loving friend at the local Humane Society shelter or pick up litter with your dad at his favorite nature preserve.
Give Gifts that Foster Reuse and Waste Reduction
Maybe you want to give your favorite waste reduction wonk items to help them get closer to the ideal of zero generation, but all you can think of are reusable coffee cups and cloth grocery bags which you know they already own. Here are some ideas and lists from which to draw inspiration.
According to PFAS Central, a project of the Green Science Policy Institute, “PFAS, sometimes referred to as PFCs or highly fluorinated chemicals, are used in many consumer products and industrial applications because of their oil-, stain-, and water-repellent properties. Examples of chemicals in this class include PFOA, PFOS, and more than 3000 related compounds. The most studied of these substances is a chemical called PFOA, which is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, and thyroid problems and decreased immune response to vaccines in children. The most studied of these substances is a chemical called PFOA, which is linked to kidney and testicular cancer, elevated cholesterol, decreased fertility, and thyroid problems and decreased immune response to vaccines in children.” PFAS persist in the environment and pollute even the most remote places. Check out ISTC’s information and work on PFAS. This recent video from Bloomberg tells the fascinating story of how one woman uncovered how PFAS pollution became prevalent in her area.
So, these substances are clearly bad news for human and environmental health, but they’re in lots of consumer products—how can you help friends and family avoid exposure? Check out https://pfascentral.org/pfas-free-products/ for a list of PFAS-free outdoor gear, apparel, shoes, personal care products, baby gear, furniture, food ware, carpets and rugs, textiles, and home maintenance products.
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.
Since 2021, the IFSCC has planned robust ICAW programming that combines in-person and hands-on experiences with virtual discussions and presentations to reach diverse and widespread audiences at all stages of life and composting experience. The 2023 line-up includes a day of “Adventures in Composting” with farmers, gardeners, and backyard composters around the state; a virtual International Cafe at which composting stories from around the world will be shared; a virtual Legislative Lunch & Learn; and multiple opportunities throughout the week to attend library programs and obtain finished compost.
As previously reported on the ISTC blog, the Farm to Food Bank program recently developed six case studies highlighting work with farmers during the 2022 growing season. Each case study includes a summary of the project, as well as lessons learned. Pilot project models included food flowing from farm to food bank, farm to food pantry, and utilizing aggregation sites.
Now the program has released “Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program 2022 Year in Review.” This report outlines all the different pilot projects that occurred in 2022 along with key takeaways. It also details central challenges and opportunities that exist in expanding this statewide program. The report was authored by the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) Zero Waste Program, in collaboration with Steve Ericson of Feeding Illinois.
Be sure to check ISTC’s social media platforms during April 10-16th, as we highlight some of the past and present work TAP is doing related to food waste. We’ll also share links to relevant blog posts, websites, videos, and other resources to help you on your food waste reduction journey. If you’re not already following us on social media, you can connect with us on:
Throughout the week, several partners across the U.S. will host webinars to inspire action to reduce food waste. For example:
Local Solutions: Food Waste Prevention Week. On Monday, April 10 at noon Central time, join the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for a presentation featuring Food For the Soul, Hamilton County R3Source, Food Shift, and Alameda County StopWaste. County recycling experts and food rescuers will talk about valuing food, ensuring good food gets eaten, and how they share their stories with the community. Register here.
The Sustainable Management of Food on the U.S.-México Border. On Wednesday, April 12 at 12:30 PM Central, U.S. EPA Region 9 will present on food waste prevention, recovery, and recycling strategies, policies, and practices for and by border-adjacent communities. Register here.
School Food Recovery: Inventory Management, Share Tables, Smarter Lunchrooms and Food Donations. Also on April 12, at 1 PM Central, you can learn about food recovery in Florida schools. Guest speakers from Orange County Public Schools will provide key takeaways from their efforts to increase consumption, decrease waste, and donate excess food. Register here. [Note: Topics covered relate to TAP’s past Green Lunchroom Challenge project and efforts on a food waste reduction toolkit for IL Schools, though neither ISTC nor the Wasted Food Action Alliance is involved in planning or presenting this webinar.]
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.
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.
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.
On November 17, 2022 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $100 million in grants for recycling infrastructure and recycling education and outreach projects throughout the country.
Entities eligible to apply for funding through the SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program include “Political subdivisions” of states and territories, such as counties, cities, towns, parishes, and similar units of governments that have executive and legislative functions to be political subdivisions of states and territories.
Applications Due: January 16, 2023 Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022 Funding Available: The minimum individual award amount is $500,000 and the maximum individual award is $4,000,000 for the grant period. Grant Period: Up to 3 years
Materials and waste streams considered under this announcement include:
Municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass, etc. and construction and demolition (C&D) debris.
In addition, materials and waste streams considered include the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting, industrial uses (e.g., rendering, anaerobic digestion (AD)), and feeding animals.
All applications must achieve one or more of the following objectives:
Establish, increase, expand, or optimize collection and improve materials management infrastructure.
Fund the creation and construction of tangible infrastructure, technology, or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream.
Establish, increase, expand, or optimize capacity for materials management.
Establish, improve, expand, or optimize end-markets for the use of recycled commodities.
Demonstrate a significant and measurable increase in the diversion, recycling rate, and quality of materials collected for municipal solid waste.
Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):
Innovative solutions and/or programs that provide or increase access to prevention, reuse, and recycling in areas that currently do not have access; including development of and/or upgrades to drop-off and transfer stations (including but not limited to a hub-and-spoke model in rural communities), etc.
The purchase of recycling equipment, including but not limited to sorting equipment, waste metering, trucks, processing facilities, etc.
Upgrades to material recovery facilities (MRFs) such as optical sorters, artificial intelligence, etc.
Development of and/or upgrades to composting facilities or anaerobic digesters to increase capacity for organics recycling.
Development of and/or upgrades to curbside collection programs or drop-off stations for organics.
Development of and/or upgrades to reuse infrastructure such as online reuse platforms, community repair spaces, technology and equipment to improve materials management reuse options, food donation, and upcycling, staging areas for material reuse/donation, reuse warehouses, and reuse centers, and electronic waste and computer recycling and refurbishing.
Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) Grant Program
The REO Grant Program includes $30 million in funding for projects to improve consumer education and outreach on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. The grants aim to reduce waste generation, decrease contamination in the recycling stream, and increase recycling rates across the country in a manner that is equitable for all.
Eligible applicants include:
U.S. States, including Washington, D.C.
Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
Federally recognized tribal governments.
Native Hawaiian organizations, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Applications Due: January 16, 2023 Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022 Funding Available: The minimum individual award floor is $250,000, and the maximum individual award ceiling is $2,000,000 for the grant period. Grant Period: Up to 3 years
Materials within the scope of this grant program include commonly recycled materials, such as aluminum and steel containers, glass, cardboard paper, and plastics, as well as food, organics (yard and tree trimmings, wood, etc.), textiles, batteries, and electronics. Also within the scope of this grant program are education and outreach activities that prevent or reduce waste by reducing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, composting, or using anaerobic digestor systems to treat these types of materials or to reduce related contamination.
All projects must encourage the collection of recyclable materials and must achieve one or more of the following objectives:
Inform the public about residential or community recycling programs.
Provide information about the recycled materials that are accepted as part of a residential or community recycling program that provides for the separate collection of residential solid waste from recycled material.
Increase collection rates and decrease contamination in residential and community recycling programs.
Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):
Public service announcements.
Door-to-door education and outreach campaigns.
Social media and digital outreach.
An advertising campaign on recycling awareness.
The development and dissemination of:
a toolkit for a municipal and commercial recycling program.
information on the importance of quality in the recycling stream.
information on the benefits of recycling.
information on what happens to materials after the materials are placed in the bin.
Businesses recycling outreach.
Bin, cart, and other receptacle labeling and signs.
Community ambassador education programs or training the trainer programs.
Other education and outreach activities to improve waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and reduce contamination, such as evaluations and evidence-based messaging and strategies associated with preventing or reducing waste and improving reuse, repair, refurbish, and remanufacture of materials.
What do the members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program’s zero waste team fear the most? Unnecessary waste! Think about all the products and packaging sent off to be prematurely buried in landfills before their useful “lives” are truly over–it makes our blood run cold. To avoid being haunted by the ghosts of poorly managed materials, check out the following Halloween waste diversion programs to keep waste out of landfills.
Please note that links and/or mentions of organizations or businesses are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the Technical Assistance Program, ISTC, the Prairie Research Institute, or the University of Illinois.
Pumpkin Smash Events
Did you know that IL leads the nation in production of pumpkins? Did you further know that pumpkins are mostly water? A great deal of labor, land, water, and other resources are invested in growing, harvesting, and distributing pumpkins in our state, and many of them end up being used for brief decorations that may wind up in landfills after Halloween has passed.
When you’re hosting a Halloween party or having kids trick-or-treat at the homes of people you know and trust, there are opportunities to pass out/receive homemade or minimally-packaged bulk treats and reduce the amount of plastic packaging associated with Halloween festivities. However, the reality is that many people pass out candy to or collect candy from strangers; plus, many of us like to purchase Halloween candy to share with coworkers or our family during the month of October as part of celebrating. The result is lots of plastic packaging ending up in landfills because such material is not collected in typical recycling programs because the form or components of the packaging make them difficult to recycle. There are however, a couple of options that can help divert the seasonal increase in candy wrappers from the landfill.
Rubicon, in collaboration with the National Wildlife Foundation, annually offers a Trick or Trash program, in which schools, independent small businesses, and community organizations can order FREE candy wrapper collection boxes. Organizations receive their collection boxes through the UPS Carbon Neutral Shipment program, set them up and collect wrappers until their box is full. Then, boxes are sealed and mailed back using a pre-affixed label. Each participating organization gets a certificate of recycling confirming how many wrappers they diverted from landfill. The recycled plastic can be used to make “doggie bags” used at animal shelters for animal waste collection. See https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/how-it-works/ for more information, and https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/#block_5aee8cc625f6cfa2532fd2b387a4e675 to order a free box. Educational materials, including lesson plans, are available at https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/education/. Note that teachers and organizations are limited to one free box to ensure that more people across the country can participate, and you should allow at least a week for shipping. So if you order a free box now, you might plan to collect wrappers right after Halloween, rather than at Halloween events. Individuals or larger business might choose to purchase a box for participation.
Learn more about reducing and reusing on Halloween
Most people have thought of checking thrift stores for reused costumes or costume elements, and parents of multiple kids know the beauty of hand-me-downs. But did you know that the second Saturday in October is National Costume Swap Day? Make plans to check online for costume swaps in your area next year, or consider organizing your own event. Alternatively, The Halloween Helpersis a non-profit organization that provides gently used costumes to other non-profit agencies that serve children. Check out their website for information on hosting or participating in a costume drive. A similar group, ‘WEEN Dream, is a non-profit that gives free Halloween costumes to children in need. See their website for information on donating your old costumes or applying for costumes in future years.
Recently, project partners released the initial feasibility study report from the first year of this project, entitled Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program. The report is available in IDEALS, the University of Illinois’ institutional repository.
Through interviews, surveys, focus groups, and pilot projects it became clear that a Farm to Food Bank program would be welcomed by both the farming and food banking communities in Illinois. Such programs are defined in the Code of Federal Regulations [at 7 CFR 251.10(j)] as “the harvesting, processing, packaging, or transportation of unharvested, unprocessed, or unpackaged commodities donated by agricultural producers, processors, or distributors for use by Emergency Feeding Organizations (EFOs)” – i.e., hunger relief agencies. Several such programs exist throughout the United States, though not in every state (for examples, see the “Lessons from Other Farm to Food Bank Programs” section of this report). While commonly referred to as Farm to Food Bank, these programs can also operate as Farm to Food Pantry programs.
While this is an ongoing research project, this report serves to demonstrate research efforts undertaken from December 2020 – February 2022 that have led to this conclusion along with identifying strengths, weaknesses, threats, opportunities, and recommendations for a statewide Farm to Food Bank program.
Recommendations for 2022 and beyond include the following:
1. A Farm to Food Bank program should have three primary goals:
➢ Support farmers by providing a secondary market for off-grade and surplus products.
➢ Increase access to local, nutritious foods.
➢ Reduce food waste/surplus on farms and associated energy and resources.
2. Equity must be an essential part of the program.
3. Seek out partnerships with existing aggregation and processing centers.
4. Seek out partnerships with new food pantries.
5. Make Feeding Illinois and their member food banks a staple at ag-focused and food access events.
6. Increase communication between food banks.
7. Ensure buy-in from food banks and food pantries.
8. Improve capacity and resources at the food pantries.
9. Connect a Farm to Food Bank program with existing
10. Diversify funding sources. Develop an advocacy plan to pursue public and private support.
11. Establish an advisory board to guide the actions of the Farm to Food Bank program.
12. Develop guidance and educational programs for farmers.
13. Measure success by more than just pounds of donated food.
14. Hire a dedicated employee to manage the Farm to Food Bank program.
15. Adapt the program as needed.
16. Continue piloting Farm to Food Bank strategies around the state.
While these recommendations can serve to guide Farm to Food Bank efforts, further research is needed to uncover opportunities and test collection and distribution strategies. ISTC and Feeding Illinois will collaborate to continue this research for the remainder of 2022 into 2023. The project team will continue outreach and engagement efforts to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. They will also continue to work with Rendleman Orchards, which participated in the first pilot project of the study, as well as conducting additional pilot projects. In the coming year, ISTC and Feeding Illinois will also work with farmers markets around the state to test aggregation strategies.