August 1, 2024, marks “Earth Overshoot Day”

Earth Overshoot Day Logog

Since 1971, the Global Footprint Network has calculated “Earth Overshoot Day” to highlight the impacts and implications of human resource consumption. As stated on the event website, “Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

“To determine the date of Earth Overshoot Day for each year, Global Footprint Network calculates the number of days of that year that Earth’s biocapacity suffices to provide for humanity’s Ecological Footprint. The remainder of the year corresponds to global overshoot. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by the number of days in a year. This year, as we are in a leap year, it is 366 days:

(Earth’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 366 = Earth Overshoot Day”

In 2024, Earth Overshoot Day falls on August 1st.  Collectively, humanity would need 1.75 Earths to meet its resource demands.

The numbers get worse if you look at consumption at the country level. If everyone globally lived like the residents of the United States of America, Earth Overshoot Day would have occurred on March 14th this year, and humanity would need the equivalent of five Earths to match resource demands.

Graphic showing the relative environmental footprint of different countries.

See https://overshoot.footprintnetwork.org/2024-calculation/ to learn more about how this year’s Earth Overshoot Day was calculated.

Clearly, none of this is sustainable. So what can we do to #MoveTheDate later in the year, so our demands better match the ability of Earth to regenerate ecological resources? The Global Footprint Network presents potential solutions to pursue individually and collectively as “The Power of Possibility” in five main categories:

  • Cities: How we design and manage cities
  • Energy: How we power ourselves
  • Food: How we feed ourselves
  • Population: How many of us are there
  • Planet: How we help nature thrive

See https://overshoot.footprintnetwork.org/power-of-possibility/ to learn more about potential strategies in each of these categories in detail. For each strategy, the Earth Overshoot Day website explains how much implementation would shift the overshoot date and how the strategy is scalable. The website also provides classroom activities and a link to a personal environmental footprint calculator to help individuals understand their lifestyle impacts.

Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, who created the concept of the environmental footprint with Professor William E. Rees in the early 1990s, provides an online primer to understanding the implications of overshoot and how to respond. He states “Because the accumulated stock of nature is finite, overshoot will inevitably end as stock get depleted. The question, therefore, is not whether it will end, only how. It can end by design or by disaster – most likely it will be a combination of both.” Let’s work together to do our best to end overshoot by design.

#MoveTheDate graphic

Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study report now available online

Cover page of Farm to Food Bank report

As reported in previous posts, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has been collaborating with Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, and other stakeholders to explore ways to reduce food waste from farms while also recovering nutritious fresh foods to increase the state’s food supply and help citizens facing food insecurity.

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:

Three essential aspects of a farm to food bank program1. 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
technology platforms.
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.

Read more about this project on the “Project Descriptions” section of the TAP website.

Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC) sends report to IL General Assembly

MMAC report cover

In July 2019, Governor Pritzker signed House Bill 3068, which created the Statewide Materials Management Advisory Committee (MMAC). Coordinated by the Illinois EPA and comprised of a wide variety of recycling, composting, materials management, and solid waste professionals, the Committee was charged with investigating current recycling and solid waste practices and recommending options to the Illinois General Assembly to divert wastes from Illinois landfills. These recommendations were also meant to include improvements to form and contents of county waste management plan required by Illinois law.

Shantanu Pai of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) served as co-chair (along with Suzanne Boring of the Illinois EPA) for the MMAC Measurement Subcommittee, the primary purpose of which was to identify, capture, and evaluate existing data reflecting the state of waste and materials management in Illinois in 2018, the base year for the reported data. Using those data, the Measurement Subcommittee was tasked with developing a matrix reflecting the environmental impacts of diverting specific materials from landfills and relaying that information to the entire Committee. Additional subcommittees existed for education and outreach, infrastructure development, market development, and local government support.

Though not official members of the MMAC or its subcommittees, TAP staff members Savannah Feher, April Janssen Mahajan, and Joy Scrogum provided support to the measurement subcommittee and to the overall efforts of the MMAC and Illinois EPA coordinating team for achievement of the MMAC goals.

The overall MMAC findings, along with the associated recommendations from various subcommittees, were compiled in report form and submitted to the 102nd General Assembly on July 1, 2021. Key recommendations include:

  • Establishing statewide landfill diversion targets of 40% by 2025, 45% by 2030, and 50% by 2035 (current rate is 37%);
  • Employing a stratified approach to strategically target materials for diversion from Illinois landfills;
  • Increasing the statewide support from existing funding and without additional revenue for materials management programs by as much as $3.375 million per State Fiscal Year by State Fiscal Year 2027;
  • Creating a Statewide Market Development Advisory Board to review and approve viable public and private sector diversion projects to receive state support;
  • Appropriating funding to support the statewide recycling and composting infrastructure grant programs;
  • Enhancing the level of state support for household hazardous waste collections;
  • Developing and continuing to support a statewide materials management education campaign;
  • Developing sophisticated data management systems within state government to track and map landfill diversion opportunities available to the public; and
  • Adopting a consistent and simplified statewide approach to local government solid waste and materials management planning and reporting.

These items, including information related to the votes to adopt the recommendations, are discussed in greater detail in the full MMAC report. Copies of the formal recommendations are included in Attachment C of the report.

The full report, along with the full roster of MMAC membership, minutes from committee and subcommittee meetings, and other relevant resources are available for download at https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/waste-management/materials-management/Pages/Materials-Management-Advisory-Committee.aspx.

Monitor the Illinois General Assembly website and the Illinois EPA Materials Management pages for future updates. See also the recorded Illinois Recycling Association/Illinois Recycling Foundation webinar from April 2021 in which provided an overview of the MMAC draft recommendations at that time.

ISTC Technical Assistance Program launches new webpages

TAP homepage

The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has a new web presence. You may now find information on TAP at https://go.illinois.edu/techassist.

TAP 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 organizations achieve profitable, sustainable results.

The new website makes it easier to find information on TAP programs, services, and projects. Visitors can sign up for free site visits or learn about fee-for-service opportunities to engage our sustainability experts. Any Illinois organization, business, manufacturing facility, institute of higher learning, government entity, public utility, or institution may request one free site visit (per location) at no cost to the facility.

General inquiries may be addressed to istc-info@illinois.edu. You may also reach out to specific TAP team members for assistance in their areas of expertise.

World Science Day for Peace and Development

The phrase “human rights” usually brings to mind things like, the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to work and education. The right to participate in and benefit from science isn’t something that usually comes to mind.

November 10th marks the World Science Day for Peace and Development, which highlights the important role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives. This year’s theme, “Science is a Human Right”, celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art.27) and the Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers.

By focusing on this theme, UNESCO aims to spark a global conversation about ways to improve access to and the benefits of science, in order to advance sustainable development and conserve Earth’s limited resources. They call on businesses, governments, civil society, and scientists to fully embrace the values of responsible and ethical science.                   

UNESCO’s Recommendation on Science and Scientific Researchers, passed in 2017, states that member states should, “contribute constructively to the fabric of science, culture and education, and the promotion of science and innovation in their own country… [and] promote access to research results and engage in the sharing of scientific data between researchers, and to policy-makers, and to the public wherever possible, while being mindful of existing rights.”

ISTC fulfills these recommendations through its publicly funded research and engagement efforts. From conducting research on microplastics in the environment to finding novel uses for carbon dioxide captured from power plants, ISTC researchers make significant contributions to their fields of research. Through the Illinois Sustainability Awards, the Center highlights projects by businesses and organizations that improve sustainability in Illinois. The Emerging Contaminants in the Environment Conference brings together researchers from all over the United States and even other countries to share their research and work toward solutions that can have an international impact.

Although UNESCO and ISTC approach the issue from different perspectives, both are working toward the same goal of a better world for everyone. Use today to celebrate the ways that science can make a difference and consider ways that you can too.