Four Ways ISTC Can Help Your Organization Zero-In on Zero Waste

This article was written by Shantanu Pai  for Linked In Pulse.

 

Zero Waste Illinois logo

For over three decades, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s (ISTC) staff of engineers and scientists have provided a variety of cost-effective, sustainable material management services.

 

ISTC has enabled organizations to improve their environmental footprint and achieve zero waste at every step in their operations by being a resource for innovative management and reuse of materials. We conduct waste audits, assist with materials management planning, supply chain optimization, and stakeholder engagement. These services are part of a subset of our technical assistance program which we refer to as Zero Waste Illinois. The technical assistance program is part of ISTC’s mission to help the citizens, businesses, governments, and organizations of Illinois conserve natural resources, prevent pollution, and reduce waste to promote improved human and environmental health. Here are the ways we can help your organization be part of Zero Waste Illinois.

 

Comprehensive Waste Audits

ISTC staff design and help implement site specific waste audits ranging in scope from individual buildings to large communities. By analyzing both material inputs and outputs within a facility, we identify more opportunities to help organizations achieve zero waste.

 

For example, as the result of a waste audit at a mid-sized manufacturing plant in Wheaton, IL, our team was able to make six recommendations which have been implemented. Through our work and a truly energetic internal staff, that facility has achieved 44% reduction of material use through process modifications—”up-stream” changes that make the entire operation more efficient over the long-term, and a new landfill diversion rate of 62%.

Photo of ISTC staff sorting waste

 

Enhanced Materials Management Planning

We help clients identify gaps in, and opportunities to improve, existing waste management processes. Additionally, we can offer solutions for site-specific constraints that prevent greater waste diversion.

 

For example, ISTC has been working with the Forest Preserve of Cook County, the nation’s largest forest preserve district with over 69,000 acres, to create a materials management plan for the entire district. Our efforts have resulted in increased recycling opportunities for District users, novel waste contract language and zero waste guides for event planners and the general public, in English, Spanish and Polish!

Bins at a zero waste event

 

Composting/Anaerobic Digestion Assistance

We conduct business outreach and research to support food waste reduction and diversion efforts. We assist clients with setting up successful compost programs by conducting waste stream assessments, designing signage, and training employees. We are currently researching a growing number of food scrap technology options, including aerobic and anaerobic digestion, and in-vessel composting.

 

Stakeholder Engagement

By partnering with employees, students, and communities, we can help you improve existing waste reduction programs through education and training. We provide advice on communication strategies that lead to lasting behavior change.

 

We recently worked with the University of Illinois, Urbana campus, on multiple recycling and waste reduction initiatives. In the fall of 2014 ISTC managed the Zero Waste football game at Memorial Stadium. With the help of over 150 volunteers and various departments on campus we were able to divert over nine tons of material to composting and recycling facilities.

 

We also assisted in rolling out a campaign to increase recycling at the Quad through improved signage, location assessments, and directed data collection.

 

Begin Your Journey to Zero Waste

Learn more about how our team of professionals might help your organization approach zero waste by visiting our web site to view our recent success stories. Then, sign up for a free site visit. There is no obligation on your part to work with us beyond the free initial visit, and that first conversation may reveal opportunities to achieve greater sustainability within your organization.

 

Have questions? Contact us at istc-zerowaste@illinois.edu.

 

Shantanu Pai is an Assistant Sustainability Researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center with a BS from University of Wisconsin—Stevens Point in Waste and Soil Resources. His research interests include fate and transport of waste materials through market driven initiatives; the role of affluence and directed public policy in solid waste management; and solid waste industry in the developing world.

 

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar Recording: Food Donation for Schools

In case you missed it, the recording and presentation slides from the recent Green Lunchroom Challenge webinar on food donation for schools are now available online at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/archivedWebinars.cfm. Dr. Kathleen Dietrich, Executive Director of Food Bus, Inc. described how that organization assists schools in donating excess food to local pantries and food banks.

 

The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project, funded by US EPA Region 5, focused on engaging K-12 schools in IL in food waste reduction and prevention strategies through a voluntary, friendly competition. Interested schools or school districts can sign up at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/, and complete any combination of suggested activities during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016).

 

Though any school or distict in IL can participate, ISTC is particularly interested in recruiting participants from Pulaski, Alexander, Marion, White, and Fayette counties. According to data from the ISBE, over 70 percent of K-12 students in those counties are eligible for assistance through the National School Lunch Program. By preventing and reducing food waste in these areas particularly, and throughout the state, it is hoped the Challenge will not only achieve environmental benefits, but also stretch federal and state assistance and resources through increased efficiency.

 

To learn more about the Challenge, visit www.greenlunchroom.org or contact Joy Scrogum. Watch the Challenge web site’s Upcoming Events page for information on other relevant webinars and events hosted by ISTC or other agencies in the weeks to come.

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, 11/18: School Food Donation

Are you an IL school or district administrator, nutritionist, educator, or parent interested in food donation as part of your school’s food waste reduction strategy? Join the Green Lunchroom Challenge for a free webinar, Wednesday, November 18, from 3-4 PM to hear Dr. Kathleen Dietrich, Executive Director of Food Bus, Inc. describe how that organization assists schools in donating excess food to local pantries and food banks.

 

The Green Lunchroom Challenge is an ISTC project, funded by US EPA Region 5, focused on engaging K-12 schools in IL in food waste reduction and prevention strategies through a voluntary, friendly competition. Interested schools or school districts can sign up at https://www.greenlunchroom.org/, and complete any combination of suggested activities during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016). Participants earn points for each completed activity, and relative progress will be displayed on an online leaderboard. Resources and guidance will be available on the Challenge website and from ISTC technical assistance staff for each recommended activity. On Earth Day 2016, the school and district with the most points will be declared winners, and will receive public recognition and prizes (to be determined) to foster continuous improvement in food waste reduction. Donating excess food for human consumption is among the suggested Challenge activities.

 

Register for the webinar at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/731005178672176385. Feel free to attend even if your school has not yet signed up for the Challenge, or if you don’t represent a school or school district and are simply interested in learning more about how schools in your area can donate excess food to prevent waste. Webinar participants will be able to ask questions and participate in discussion through the GoToWebinar chat box. If you are unable to attend the webinar live, it will be recorded and posted to the Challenge web site for later viewing. Questions about this webinar, the Green Lunchroom Challenge, or suggestions for future Challenge webinar topics may be addressed to Joy Scrogum.

 

Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

 

 

What ‘Back to the Future Part II’ got wrong (and right)

sharmaHappy Back to the Future Day! ISTC Senior Research Engineer B.K. Sharma is one of the University of Illinois researchers featured in a fun roundup of predictions made for this day by the feature film 26 years ago.

 

The movies predictions about alternative fuels from garbage were somewhat prescient. Sharma hasn’t come up with Mr. Fusion, but he makes gasoline from all types of wastes (grocery bags, prescription medicine bottles, milk cartons, straws, bottle caps, tires, old coffee grounds, algae, sewage sludge, manure and food waste).

 

The Cubs, predicted to win the World Series, on the other hand, are just hanging on.  See the whole article at https://illinois.edu/blog/view/6231/263585.

ISTC @ iSEE Water Congress Sept. 14-16, 2015

iSEE Water Planet, Water Crisis? graphicISTC will participate next week in the U of I’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE) second annual international conference titled  “Water Planet, Water Crises? Meeting the World’s Water-Food-Energy Needs Sustainably”.  The iSEE Water Congress is set for Sept. 14-16, 2015, in the Alice Campbell Alumni Center on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. Registration is free for the event.

 

ISTC will have three posters in the Water Congress poster sessions showcasing various projects they are involved with on water quality and conservation:

Continue reading “ISTC @ iSEE Water Congress Sept. 14-16, 2015”

Free Green Lunchroom Challenge Kickoff Workshop & Training, Sept. 17

A free kickoff workshop and training for the Green Lunchroom Challenge, a voluntary competition among K-12 schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations, will be held on Thursday, September 17 in the Stephen J. Warner conference room at ISTC from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The workshop will provide an overview of the Challenge, presentations on relevant tools and programs, discussions of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools, and a school food service training session presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on nutritional and environmental impacts of school food.

 

Registration for this workshop is limited to 40 participants. Please note that you do NOT need to participate in the workshop in order to participate in the Challenge itself. Interested schools may sign up for the Challenge at any time during the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015 – April 1, 2016) at www.greenlunchroom.org.

 

The training presented by Greg Christian will take place during the final two hours of the half-day workshop, and will cover the problem of food waste, multiple barriers to its reduction, front and back of house waste, measurement techniques to identify opportunities for improvement, and a systems approach to waste reduction, drawing on Greg’s personal experiences and methods for maintaining a zero waste kitchen. The two hours of in-person training can be counted by school nutrition/food service professionals as continuing education for the USDA Professional Standards which went into effect on July 1, 2015 (See http://www.isbe.net/nutrition/htmls/snp-prof-stds.htm). Attendees will need to keep track of the training agenda, hours, and proof of attendance. ISTC will have a sign-in sheet at the event and can send you an email afterward confirming your presence at the training.

 

For more information on the workshop and to register online, see www.greenlunchroom.org/?kickoff. Questions may be addressed to Joy Scrogum.

 

The Green Lunchroom Challenge is sponsored by US EPA Region 5.

 

Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Green Lunchroom Challenge to Assist IL Schools with Food Waste Prevention, Reduction

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represents 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounts for 80 percent of the freshwater we consume–yet, 40 percent of food in the US goes uneaten. And in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children. Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.

 

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is therefore pleased to announce an exciting new project that addresses this important societal and environmental challenge. In order to identify sources of food waste in K-12 schools and facilitate its prevention and reduction, ISTC, in collaboration with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), UI Extension, and Beyond Green Partners, Inc., is launching the Green Lunchroom Challenge this fall. Funded by US EPA Region 5, the program is open for participation from K-12 schools throughout the state. Marketing of the program will however, be targeted toward underserved regions of southern Illinois, including Pulaski, Alexander, Marion, White, and Fayette counties. According to data from the ISBE, over 70 percent of K-12 students in those counties are eligible for assistance through the National School Lunch Program. By preventing and reducing food waste in these areas particularly, and throughout the state, it is hoped the Challenge will not only achieve environmental benefits, but also stretch federal and state assistance and resources through increased efficiency.

 

school kids in cafeteria
Photo: USDA Blog

 

Similar to the successful Illinois Green Office Challenge, the Green Lunchroom Challenge is a voluntary, “friendly competition,” in which participating schools will choose among a variety of suggested activities to improve the sustainability of their food service. These activities will range in complexity and commitment to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Examples might include, but not be limited to, composting of food scraps, use of creative entree names and careful relative placement of food choices to reduce waste of fruit and vegetables, donation of unused food to local food banks or shelters, etc. In addition to operationally related activities, schools may also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Resources and guidance will be available on the project web site and from ISTC technical assistance staff for each recommended activity, and participants will earn points for every activity they complete. Relative progress will be displayed on an online leaderboard. On Earth Day 2016, the participating public K-12 school with the most points will be declared the winner for the year and will receive public recognition and a prize (to be determined) to foster continuous improvement.

 

A kickoff workshop will be held in September 2015 (date and location to be announced) to introduce the Challenge; identify (in part through feedback from school and district representatives in attendance) key sources of food waste in schools, as well as barriers to its prevention; to raise awareness among potential participants of existing relevant toolkits and programs; and to provide comprehensive training on analysis and modification of menus, food procurement and inventory, lunchroom procedures, etc. Note that a school does not need to participate in the workshop to participate in the Challenge, and schools may register throughout the Challenge period (Sept. 1, 2015- April 1, 2016). While the competition is only open to K-12 schools in Illinois, ISTC hopes that other states and organizations beyond schools will be able to use resources developed for the Challenge to guide food waste reduction and prevention in their operations and regions.

 

Interested parties may contact Joy Scrogum with questions or to request addition to the mailing list for more information on the workshop and activities as it becomes available. The project web site will be available soon, and potential participants will be able to sign up to receive further information there as well. (The URL for the program web site will be posted in the comments of this post as soon as it is live.)

 

cafeteria tray
Photo by Tim Lauer, principal of Meriwether Lewis Elementary School in Portland, Oregon