Farm to Food Bank Survey Deadline Extended, Focus Groups Planned

Graphic encouraging IL farmers to complete an online survey by March 30, 2021

In a previous post, we described a collaborative feasibility study being conducted by ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau, to collect information on locations, types, and quantities of surplus food in Illinois. Through a producer survey, a series of focus groups, and implementation of pilots across the state, the team looks to uncover the optimal mix of incentives and program interventions to overcome the current barriers to efficient flows of fresh food produced in Illinois, to Illinois residents, with as little waste as possible. The goal is to identify opportunities to develop a statewide farm to food bank program that will address food insecurity and food waste.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

To help with this effort, farmers from every region of Illinois are encouraged to complete an online survey at go.illinois.edu/farm2foodbanksurvey. The survey will remain open (responses accepted) until a target number of responses have been received to ensure a robust sample size. The survey takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.

Participants are also being recruited for a series of virtual focus groups. The focus groups will be crafted to gather input from all regions of the state, as well as perspectives from underserved farmers. Participants will include producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors. Input from focus groups will supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the survey. This will also provide TAP the opportunity to gauge feasibility, interest, and barriers to implementing and participating in a farm to food bank project among producers.

The online producer survey offers respondents the opportunity to indicate their interest in focus group participation. Individuals can also contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Program to indicate interest in the focus groups, for additional information on the study, or for assistance with completion of the producer survey.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post text

Technical Assistance Program collaborates to connect surplus food with hunger relief agencies

The University of Illinois, Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and the Illinois Farm Bureau are collaborating to collect and collate information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. Through a producer survey, a series of focus groups, and implementation of pilots across the state the team looks to uncover the optimal mix of incentives and program interventions to overcome the current barriers to efficient flows of fresh food produced in Illinois, to Illinois residents, with as little waste as possible.

Wasted Food = Wasted Resources + Wasted Dollars + Wasted Nutrition

According to the second edition of the Natural Resources Defense Council report Wasted: How America is Losing up to 40 Percent of Its Food From Farm to Fork to Landfill, roughly two-fifths of the food we produce in our country goes uneaten for a variety of reasons, based on losses in the production, processing, distribution, and consumption stages of our food system. Beyond the food itself, this reality represents a huge loss of the resources invested in our nation’s food production–“food and agriculture consume up to 16 percent of US energy, almost half of all US land and account for 67 percent of the nation’s freshwater use.”

Image of NRDC "Wasted" report cover with a photo of a watermelon with a wedge removed.The loss is economic as well as environmental. NRDC estimates that over 400 pounds of food are wasted per person annually in the US, equivalent to “a loss of up to $218 billion each year, costing a household of four an average of $1,800 annually.”

The situation is made all the more tragic when considering that Feeding America estimated 14.3 million American households were food insecure with limited or uncertain access to enough food in 2018. “Food insecurity” refers to a lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members and limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods.

In 2018, 1,283,550 people experienced food insecurity in Illinois.

Global Pandemic Makes a Bad Situation Worse

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues of food waste and hunger have become even more pronounced. In the wake of unemployment, medical bills and other unforeseen costs, many people have struggled to make ends meet. Simultaneously, our food supply chain scrambled to pivot to a world in which institutions and businesses involved with food service or food retail shut down as part of efforts to slow the spread of disease. As an example of the challenges this presented, some perishable goods like milk or meat may be produced and packaged in bulk specifically for large-scale customers such as restaurants. So, when those customers suddenly no longer exert their typical demands on the system, large quantities of commodities may spoil if new customers can’t be identified to absorb the available supply, or if the means for alternative packaging or distribution cannot be quickly realized. News reports featured stories of commodities without outlets being dumped or livestock euthanized and record-long lines at food banks. Feeding America estimates that due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, more than 50 million people may experience food insecurity, including a potential 17 million children.

Farm to Food Bank Programs as Viable Solutions

Decreasing waste and increasing nutritional access are being addressed across the nation in various ways. One strategy for addressing these issues simultaneously is through Farm to Food Bank programs. “Farm to Food Bank” projects 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. Some existed long before pandemic-related restrictions rocked the nation’s food systems, since it is not uncommon for farmers to donate their surpluses to local hunger relief agencies. Existing programs have had to work hard to keep up with increased demand during the pandemic and expand where possible. Several new farm to food bank programs have been created over the past year in direct response to pandemic-related systemic pressures, as highlighted in a recent article for Civil Eats by Lynne Curry. Many of these are notable because they use donated funds to pay farmers fair market prices for commodities that would otherwise be wasted, or to cover other economic barriers to surplus redistribution (e.g. labor or transportation costs), creating interim markets as a stopgap response to disruptions caused by the pandemic.

One such program, The Farmlink Project, was launched in April 2020 by college students in response to the struggling they witnessed in their home communities after returning from their shut-down campuses. The project uses donated funds to pay for the packing of farm surplus and delivery to food distribution sites. Databases of interested farmers and nearby food banks are being built to enable efficient connections. Partnership with Food Finders, a food rescue organization, and Uber Freight allows logistical hurdles to be addressed by those with appropriate expertise. In the organization’s short life it has grown to involve more than 100 college and university students from across the country, serving all but five of the fifty United States, and has delivered over 22,000,000 pounds of food, according to the project website.

In New Mexico, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization, began its Farm to Food Bank Project at the start of the pandemic, and reported in December 2020 that it had provided “more than 12,000 pounds of local, fresh produce–reaching thousands of community members in need.” AFSC uses donations to purchase “organic produce from 25 sustainable farms and distribute that food to Roadrunner Food Bank—the state’s largest food bank—as well as five shelters and food pantries that serve people who are homeless, domestic violence survivors, seniors, and immigrants.” They additionally supply “farmers with seeds and other farming materials, as well as safety items like face masks and gloves. In return, farms are providing a portion of the food they grow to local relief agencies.”

Some long-running programs have integrated various ways to address economic barriers for farmers. Operating since 2005, the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB) Farm to Family program offers a “pick and pack” fee to farmers to help mitigate harvesting and packaging costs. CAFB handles the logistics, transporting surplus food from farms to food banks throughout the state for redistribution. Participating farmers are also eligible for a 15% state tax credit.

With these and many other examples elsewhere in the nation, various stakeholders in Illinois are considering what lessons can be learned to determine how the farm to food bank concept could be applied to circumstances within our state.

Stakeholders Collaborate to Improve Food Security in Illinois

Even before the pandemic began, Illinois stakeholders were considering how to ensure more food would reach those in need through farm to food bank strategies. In early 2020, staff from Feeding Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau began discussions related to expansion of programs and opportunities for moving surplus food commodities to hunger relief agencies throughout the state. These agencies reached out to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to discuss the types of data and analyses needed to support such efforts. Plans began for a feasibility study, involving collaboration with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, to expand and improve farm to food bank commodity flows. The study kicked off with a survey of participants at the annual Illinois Specialty Crops Conference in January 2021.

The overall outcomes of this project are being realized by meaningful collaboration between over two dozen organizations across Illinois. The feasibility study is being led by Feeding Illinois with support from the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, the Illinois Farm Bureau, and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. ISTC’s TAP is spearheading data collection and analysis, as well as final report preparation.

Logos of Feeding Illinois, the IL Farm Bureau, the Specialty Crop Growers Association and the Prairie Research Institute

Project Objectives

The feasibility study will involve collection and collation of information on the locations, types, and quantities of “surplus” specialty crops in Illinois, including potential acquisition costs. Objectives include:

  • Provide producers with additional end markets for commodities
  • Identify the quantity and quality of surplus food in Illinois
  • Expand supply of fresh food to food banks
  • Increase food security
  • Reduce food loss and foster a statewide circular economy
  • Establish a sustainable farm to food bank program in Illinois

Study Components

In order to evaluate and devise effective strategies for expansion of farm to food bank programs within Illinois, the study team is evaluating what has worked as part of such programs in other states. Project staff are reviewing and reaching out to similar programs nationwide to compile best practices, key challenges, pinch points where material flows may slow down or stop due to a variety of factors, performance indicators, and key stakeholders to include in strategic planning.

Graphic representation of the study elements, as described in the text of the blog post

Simultaneously, the project team is taking a three-pronged approach to compile the data necessary to develop and assess the feasibility of strategies for a statewide farm to food bank program in Illinois.

Graphic representation of the three data compilation elements, as described in the post textThe first step is collecting feedback from Illinois producers on current conditions, challenges, opportunities, and past experiences via the aforementioned online survey, which was launched during a session presented at the virtual 2021 Illinois Specialty Crop Conference that took place in January. Conference attendees were encouraged to complete the survey during the conference and will receive electronic reminders from session coordinators. It includes questions on current practices, market channels, market alternatives, product marketability, and the farm-to-food-banks experience from the producer perspective. The survey will be open to Illinois producers until March 15th.

Additionally, virtual focus groups including producers, representatives of hunger relief agencies, and food distributors will be held, to supplement, validate, and contextualize the information gathered through the surveys. This will also provide TAP the opportunity to gauge feasibility, interest, and barriers to implementing and participating in a farm to food bank project among producers.

Survey respondents and focus group participants will have the opportunity to indicate interest in participating in future pilot studies of any new farm-to-food-bank strategies to address food insecurity identified as part of this overall feasibility study.

Finally, TAP will synthesize the findings from the surveys and focus groups to estimate the statewide supply of food commodities not currently entering the market. TAP will prepare a final report–essentially a roadmap for a statewide farm to food bank program–outlining the opportunity and feasibility (including both logistical and economic considerations) of implementing various farm to food bank project scenarios. The report will be made available online to inform Illinois producers and other stakeholders, and to assist with similar efforts in other states.

Participate

Illinois producers can support these efforts by completing our survey. It takes approximately 10 minutes to complete. If you prefer,  request to have a a hard copy of the survey mailed to you by contacting ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program.

For additional information, assistance with survey completion, or to express interest in participating in the forthcoming focus groups, please contact the ISTC Technical Assistance Program.

Learn More

UIC releases Sustainable Materials Management Plan developed with ISTC

Document cover, saying "Sustainable Materials Management Plan," along with the UIC logo and a photo of trash arranged to form the logo.The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) recently released a Sustainable Materials Management Plan, a concrete step in the university’s goal to become a Zero Waste Campus.

During the past academic year, many stakeholders observed current waste management practices and coordinated and conducted a waste characterization study to represent campus-wide activities. Study results and annual material generation data were analyzed and extrapolated, campus focus groups were held to provide input for ideal material management, and the research and recommendations were collated into one comprehensive plan to increase waste diversion and ultimately achieve a zero-waste campus.

UIC partnered with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program to conduct the waste audit, engage stakeholders, and spearhead plan development. The plan identifies nearly 100 strategies for waste reduction and diversion and was informed by the results of a November 2019 waste audit, along with insightful input received from students, faculty, staff, and community members.

UIC’s Waste Characterization Study

The waste characterization study included more than 3,300 pounds of trash from 14 buildings and outdoor campus collection bins sorted into 32 Multiple bins and buckets, each containing a different type of waste identified in the waste auditmaterial categories.

The audit team used an activity zone approach to capture waste from buildings by use, such as administrative offices, academic and lab settings, student residence halls, and multi-use spaces.

Landfill and recycling bins from various outdoor areas of campus, such as along internal walking paths, busy urban corridors, and in parking structures, comprised an “On-the-go” activity zone. The study team and an enthusiastic group of student, staff, and faculty volunteers sorted the waste over the course of a wintery week.

UIC’s Sustainable Materials Management Plan

Co-led by ISTC, and UIC’s Office of Planning Sustainability and Project Management (PSPM), a team of staff, faculty, and students from various departments, external partners and industry experts developed the Sustainable Materials Management Plan.

Together team members worked to document and understand current waste management practices and analyzed waste generation. The Plan categorizes campus waste to show what is avoidable, currently recyclable, compostable, potentially recyclable, and non-recoverable.

The data revealed that 33% of the overall waste stream on campus is compostable material, such as food scraps. Nineteen percent of the waste stream is composed of recyclable materials such as paper or plastic bottles. Eighteen percent of the waste stream on campus consists of avoidable materials such as paper towels and disposable beverage cups. Five percent of the waste stream is comprised of potentially recyclable material such as plastic film and gloves that could be diverted through source-separated streams.

The remaining 24% of the waste stream consists of materials that are currently non-recoverable, i.e. items for which recovery end markets or programs do not yet exist, or for which solutions are not yet available at UIC or in surrounding areas. This includes items like single-use equipment and other non-recyclable paper, glass and plastic items.

“Data has been a critical part of our success in reaching almost a 50% recycling rate at UIC over the past decade, even while the number of students on campus has grown by 20%. With the help of data, the recycling program at UIC has vanquished a once prevalent view that Chicago doesn’t recycle. With the report from the ISTC led waste audit, the volume of food scraps, and the presence of currently recyclable materials point to impactful steps we must take in waste reduction, outreach, and education,” stated Joe Iosbaker, UIC’s Recycling Coordinator.

Bar graph showing the percentage of various types of materials present in the UIC waste stream during the November 2019 waste audit

The study team also gathered input from members of the campus community through an online survey and a series of focus groups. Discussions shed light on knowledge, perceptions, and expectations of waste management infrastructure, the overall campus culture surrounding resource recovery, waste-related priorities, and challenges. This feedback from the UIC community was used to develop strategies to increase recycling and waste reduction. Through this multi-layer process, UIC now has a comprehensive roadmap to build from the 47% recycling rate today and prime the conditions for a zero-waste campus by 2050.

“The comprehensive presentation in the Materials Management Plan provided by ISTC gives us a greater understanding of the tasks we have,” Iosbaker asserted. Assistant Vice-Chancellor and Director of Sustainability Cindy Klein-Banai reinforced those sentiments stating, “This study has provided the data and next steps for robust strategies for reaching our Zero Waste Goal within the UIC Climate Commitments. It also demonstrates the need for broad responsibility in developing our program across all units and departments of the university.”

“ISTC’s Zero Waste team acknowledges the great potential of a comprehensive, campus-driven Sustainable Materials Management Plan,” shared April Janssen Mahajan, Sustainability Specialist at ISTC. “We fully embraced the challenges and opportunities this project offered to help UIC reconsider, reimagine and redefine campus waste and materials management in support of the university’s mission to become a Zero Waste Campus.”

ISTC provides technical assistance from a distance

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) at the University of Illinois makes companies and communities more competitive and resilient with sustainable business practices, technologies, and solutions. TAP works at the intersection of industry, science and government to help clients achieve profitable, sustainable results.

In service to the State of Illinois, ISTC provides all Illinois organizations, businesses, manufacturing facilities, institutions and governments the opportunity for one free site visit and sustainability assessment from TAP. However, in light of the Governor’s stay-at-home order and restrictions on non-essential travel for University personnel as we face the COVID-19 pandemic, TAP staff members are currently not conducting in-person site visits.

But this does not mean that we are not still here to serve you. Our staff members are working remotely, and are available to help your business or community with:

  • Answers to questions related to waste reduction, water and energy efficiency and conservation
  • Guidance on institutional water treatment, particularly given recent changes to building use patterns
  • Greening your supply chain
  • Sustainability visioning, goal setting, planning and communication with stakeholders
  • Information on alternative technologies and processes to reduce resource consumption, hazardous material use, and emissions
  • General recommendations for process improvement, which can increase your productivity while reducing your negative environmental footprint

Learn more about TAP services and impacts on the ISTC web site. If you are interested in scheduling a site visit in the future, when travel restrictions have been lifted, fill out our form to request a site visit.  Questions can also be directed to istc-info@illinois.edu, to receive immediate assistance.

Subscribe to our monthly e-mail newsletter on sustainability for food and beverage manufacturers at https://groups.webservices.illinois.edu/subscribe/115948.

You can also keep up to date on TAP projects and services, case studies, and guidance by subscribing to the ISTC blog (look for the “subscribe” box for email input on the main blog page) or exploring the blog’s Technical Assistance category. Our web site also provides a list of fact sheets, case studies and other publications which may provide inspiration for your efforts. In the coming months, TAP will also be developing a new web site to more fully describe recent projects, successes, and services; this will be linked to directly from the main ISTC web site. Be on the lookout for it!

Finally, on April 9th, at 12 PM Central, we invite you to join us for a webinar, Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF) Festival Footprint: Going Zero Waste. Learn more and register at https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/4557515682919003659. If it inspires you to pursue zero waste at your facility or in your community, we’d love to discuss opportunities and ideas with you! Reach out to our zero waste team at istc-zerowaste@illinois.edu.  If you want to receive notifications of future webinars from ISTC, you can sign up at https://groups.webservices.illinois.edu/subscribe/53516.

Stay safe and know that we are here to support your organization’s sustainability efforts during this difficult time.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes ISTC as a 2017 Gold Award Winner

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has received a Gold Award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge (SEC)–a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 223,000 employees in 39 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green purchasing, energy conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2017.

 

SEC Gold level recognition certificate for ISTC in 2017 calendar year, displayed in frame made of repurposed circuit boards

“The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is truly an outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, SEC Program Manager. “This is the fourth year in a row that ISTC has earned a Gold Award.”  She added that “ISTC is one of only 16 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”

 

“We’re honored to have received this recognition, and value our participation in the SEC program,” said Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist and coordinator for its Sustainable Electronics Initiative and Illini Gadget Garage projects. “The guidance and resources available through the SEC were very helpful in creating ISTC’s policy on purchasing, use, and disposal of IT equipment. They also create a useful framework for discussing operational changes in terms of these lifecycle phases for electronics with ISTC’s own technical assistance clients. Even though public entities and non-profits are the types of organizations which may participate in the SEC, I often refer other types of organizations to the Program Requirements Checklist for a simple guide to best practices. I’d love to see more units at the University of Illinois join the SEC, and in general see more participants in the state of Illinois.”

 

The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2017, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible reuse and recycling:

  • Prevented the release of 5,503,212 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 1,163,470 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply almost 5,000 homes per year .
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 1,258 refrigerators.
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by more than 750 households/year.

A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (www.stateelectronicschallenge.net).

 

“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as this one developed and implemented ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.”

 

The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung and the R2/RIOS Program.

 

About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 168 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 223,000 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes Illinois Sustainable Technology Center as a 2016 Gold Award Winner

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) has received a Gold Award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge–a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 223,000 employees in 39 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green purchasing, energy conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2016.

 

“The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center is truly an outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, State Electronics Challenge Program Manager. “This is the third year in a row that ISTC has earned a Gold Award.” She added that “ISTC is one of only 17 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”

 

“We’re really pleased to have received this recognition, and value our participation in this program,” said Joy Scrogum, ISTC Sustainability Specialist and coordinator for its Sustainable Electronics Initiative and Illini Gadget Garage projects. “The guidance and resources available through the State Electronics Challenge (SEC) were very helpful in creating ISTC’s policy on purchasing, use, and disposal of IT equipment. They also create a useful framework for discussing operational changes in terms of these lifecycle phases for electronics with ISTC’s own technical assistance clients. Even though public entities and non-profits are the types of organizations which may participate in the SEC, I often refer other types of organizations to the Program Requirements Checklist for a simple guide to best practices.”

 

As a result of its environmental initiatives, in 2016 ISTC saved enough energy to power 42 households per year, avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 68 cars from the road per year, as well as avoiding the generation of 37 pounds of hazardous waste.

 

The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2016, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible reuse and recycling:

  • Prevented the release of almost 219,198 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 171,006 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply 13,722 homes per year
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 2,120 refrigerators
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by 1,007 households/year.

A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (www.stateelectronicschallenge.net).

 

“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as this one developed and implemented at ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.”

 

The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung and the R2/RIOS Program.

 

About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council (www.nerc.org). Currently, 167 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 223,000 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net.

 

About the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC)

As a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) helps organizations and citizens implement sustainable solutions to environmental and economic challenges. ISTC’s mission is to encourage and assist citizens, businesses, and government agencies to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste to protect human health and the environment of Illinois and beyond. ISTC integrates applied research, technical assistance, and information services to advance efforts on a wide variety of sustainability issues and promote sustainable economic development.
photo of SEC plaque made of circuit boards

Challenges of Carbon Utilization Have Regional Solutions

istc director kevin o'brien speaks at technology summit in San Antonio Texas
Advances in carbon utilization technology holds diverse options for job and economic development, according to ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien.

Emerging technologies for carbon dioxide (CO2) utilization present significant opportunities for job creation and economic growth, said Kevin O’Brien, director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), a division of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a presentation to the Eighth Carbon Dioxide Utilization Summit Feb. 22 in San Antonio, Texas.

 

But success in deriving those benefits from carbon utilization depends on the assets (economic and human) of each particular region, O’Brien emphasized to energy, chemical, plastics, and construction industry leaders at the conference.

 

Mature regional partnerships for workforce development, higher education, economic development, government support, and responsive research and development capabilities are some of the factors that contribute to development of a sustainable CO2 value chain.

 

O’Brien pointed to reasons why Illinois, where coal underlies nearly the entire state and remains a $2.5 billion annual industry, is seizing on every advantage it has to align with the potential of carbon utilization innovations.

 

  • Illinois research universities have leading programs in engineering, engineering geology, carbon capture, and other scientific innovation. One example is the use of CO2 as a fertilizer substitute at the University of Illinois. In a major agricultural state with nutrient loss problems and where the climate is expected to reduce carbon retention in soil, synergies abound.
  • College curricula, community colleges, economic development professionals, political leaders, and employers are already connected to existing supply chains.
  • The University of Illinois’ Prairie Research Institute, ISTC’s parent organization, has assembled decades-long reservoirs of valuable data on Illinois weather, regional climate, soil, groundwater, stream flow, and other factors that is relevant to an economic pivot toward carbon utilization.

 

On the research front, a Midwest Regional Approach to Carbon Utilization workshop is being planned for June 28 by co-organizers ISTC, the Gas Technology Institute, and the Advanced Coal and Energy Research Center of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

 

Other regions will have different assets and opportunities. For instance, carbon utilization will necessitate pipelines or another cost-effective transportation method for captured CO2. Markets with a track record for facilitating transportation will be ahead of the game, O’Brien said.

EPA’s Safer Choice Label helps consumers make informed choices

saferchoice_rgbFinding products that are safer for you, your family, and the environment should be easy. That’s why EPA developed the new Safer Choice label. Products with the Safer Choice label help consumers and commercial buyers identify products with safer chemical ingredients, without sacrificing quality or performance.
 
More than 2,000 products currently qualify to carry the Safer Choice label. You can find products for your home at retail stores. You can also find products to use in facilities like schools, hotels, offices, and sports venues.
 
Participation in the Safer Choice program is voluntary. Companies that make products carrying the Safer Choice label have invested heavily in research and reformulation to ensure that their products meet the Safer Choice Standard. These companies are leaders in safer products and sustainability.
 
Products have to meet stringent criteria in order to earn the Safer Choice label. In addition to product ingredients, the program also considers product performance, pH, packaging and more to ensure that products with the label are safer for you and your family. Once a product meets the Safer Choice Standard, EPA conducts annual audits to ensure that they continue to do so.
 
You can search for products that meet the Safer Choice Standard here.

In Race to Capture Carbon Dioxide, Remember the Need to Use It

Kevin O'Brien at the International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Technologies
ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien spoke in Lausanne, Switzerland today on the importance of developing new uses for ‘waste’ carbon dioxide.

The capture and utilization of CO2 provides a unique opportunity to create jobs and build new markets. Illinois is leading this charge, said ISTC Director Kevin O’Brien today in a presentation at the International Conference on Greenhouse Gas Technologies (GHGT-13) in Lausanne, Switzerland.

 

While research on economical technologies to capture and store CO2 is a priority at the University of Illinois and around the world, it is equally important to develop new approaches to monetize and utilize the gas as a commodity, O’Brien said.

 

He outlined the Carbon Dioxide Utilization and Reduction (COOULR) Center being formed at the University’s Prairie Research Institute. He called this effort a model for other communities committed to creating jobs and accelerating economic engines.

 

The University’s openness to discovery and innovation, coupled with the U of I’s interest in becoming carbon neutral by 2050 makes for a fortunate confluence of factors. “There is a need to be able to explore a multitude of utilization approaches in order to identify a portfolio of potential utilization mechanisms,” he said. “This portfolio must be adapted based on the economy of the region.”

 

The Carbon Dioxide Utilization and Reduction (COOULR) Center being formed at the University's Prairie Research Institute.
The Carbon Dioxide Utilization and Reduction (COOULR) Center being formed at the University’s Prairie Research Institute is intended to be a model for other communities to explore new uses for captured CO2.

A research effort like the COOULR Center “is one of the key steps in the formation of a market for captured CO2,” he added. “The goal of the Center is to not only evaluate technologies, but also demonstrate at a large pilot scale how communities may be able to monetize captured CO2.”

 

The GHGT Conference is held every two years by the International Energy Agency‘s (IEA) Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme. The IEA consists of the U.S. and 28 other industrialized nations that work to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy supplies.

 

Co-authors of the paper delivered by O’Brien are: Yongqi Lu, Sallie Greenberg, Randall Locke (Illinois State Geological Survey); Vinod Patel (ISTC); Michael Larson (U of I’s Abbott Power Plant); Krish R. Krishnamurthy, Makini Byron, Joseph Naumovitz (Linde LLC); and David S. Guth, Stephen J. Bennett (Affiliated Engineers Inc. (AEI)). The university team and the private partners are currently involved in major research projects to test advanced carbon capture systems at the University’s power plant.

Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, Sept. 30, Features Innovative School Projects

Join us on Friday, September 30, 2016 for a Green Lunchroom Challenge Webinar, “School Gardening and Composting at Salem High School (MA).” The webinar will be broadcast from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM Central, and will be recorded and posted to the Challenge web site for later viewing. Register online at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/2878734024751555843.

 

Learn about innovative on-site gardening and composting efforts at Salem High School (Salem, MA). These projects not only provide fresh produce for school meals, but also engaging experiential learning opportunities for students. Our presenters will be Graeme Marcoux, Salem High School science teacher, and Deborah Jeffers, Food Services Director. This school not only has traditional garden plots, but also grows produce in a modified, climate controlled shipping container from Freight Farms. This atypical approach to on-site gardening allows the school to generate more fresh produce than they would with their traditional plots alone, and can allow growing during any season. This CBS Boston feature on the school’s efforts provides more information, and may help you formulate questions you’d like to ask during the webinar: http://boston.cbslocal.com/video/category/news-general/3411386-eye-on-education-students-grow-fresh-healthy-food-for-cafeteria/#.V1cjQm52EV9.wordpress.

 

Coordinated by ISTC with funding from US EPA Region 5, the Green Lunchroom Challenge is a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations. By registering, participants are accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The Challenge involves suggested activities that range in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget and available community resources. Participants are not required to complete activities, but with each activity that is completed successfully, they earn points and can be recognized as having achieved different levels of accomplishment. Learn more, and register your school or district, at www.greenlunchroom.org.

 

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