TAP project helps Rendleman Orchard get surplus fruit to food banks

Boxes are loaded onto a truck for delivery to the food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)
Rendleman Orchards worker loads boxes onto a truck for delivery to a food bank (photo credit: Zach Samaras)

ISTC and Feeding Illinois partnered with Rendleman Orchards during the 2021 growing season to ensure no fruit went to waste. Through the USDA’s Farm to Food Bank grant, Feeding Illinois was able to pay Rendleman Orchards its picking and pack-out costs (PPO) which represent the farm’s costs to harvest and package the product and enabled the donation of the peaches, nectarines, and apples. The fruit was either off-spec, meaning it did not qualify to be sold in typical primary markets due to size/weight/blemishes, or surplus, meaning that the farmer did not have a buyer or market outlet for the fruit. The project team helped Rendleman Orchards avoid waste, recoup their costs, and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need.

Rendleman Orchards started by providing 48 cases of peaches to Tri-State Food Bank’s Vienna, IL hub. After initial success, St. Louis Area foodbank and Northern Illinois Food Bank began receiving cases of peaches and nectarines as well. As demand grew from the food banks, Rendleman Orchards aggregated peaches and nectarines from neighboring Flamm Orchards.

Each week Rendleman Orchards reached out to a specific contact at each food bank with quantities available. Interested food banks placed orders with Rendleman Orchards by the end of the week and either pick-up or receive a delivery the following Tuesday. Tri-State Food Bank and Northern Illinois Food Bank orders were delivered, while St. Louis Area foodbank picked up directly from the farm. All invoices were sent to Feeding Illinois and were paid upon confirmation of receipt from the food banks.

By the end of the 2021 growing season, Feeding Illinois reimbursed Rendleman Orchards $272,182 to cover the PPO costs for the donation of 567,085 pounds of Illinois-grown fresh fruits: 7,458 cases (372,900 lbs) of peaches; 539 cases (26,950 lbs) of nectarines; and a combined 167,235 pounds of bagged and bulk apples. An additional $10,420 was paid for associated deliveries to the four recipient food banks.

Read the full case study.

DOE publishes survey of U.S. federal and state-level solar system decommissioning policies

DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently published A Survey of Federal and State-Level Solar System Decommissioning Policies in the United States. ISTC’s Jennifer Martin was one of the report’s peer reviewers.

The report provides a survey and brief overview of both Bureau of LM and U.S. statewide solar decommissioning policies, and a discussion of some of the potential impacts different policy designs may have on utility-scale solar development, including impacts that might influence construction timelines and over project costs.

Read the full report on the NREL website.

Champaign County group receives funding, seeks participants for commercial food scrap compost pilot

CCES logo

This fall, the Champaign County Environmental Stewards (CCES) received a ‘Land, Health, Community’ Lumpkin Family Foundation Grant to help launch a commercial food scrap compost pilot project at the Landscape Recycling Center (LRC) in Urbana, IL. This grant will primarily be used toward the construction of a concrete bunker at the LRC for the processing of food scraps collected from pilot participants.

CCES is a non-profit community organization formed in 2019 to support efforts to provide area citizens with safe and convenient collection options for household materials that pose potential problems at the end of their useful life. CCES is an organizational member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition.  Joy Scrogum, a member of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) who works primarily on zero waste projects, serves on the CCES board of directors.

The pilot project will provide pre-consumer (i.e. back-of-house) food scrap collection service to recruited commercial food scrap generators (e.g., grocery stores, commercial kitchens, and restaurants) located within or nearby Urbana. CCES will collaborate with the City of Urbana Public Works Department, which operates the LRC, and local sponsors.

CCES is currently recruiting participants for the pilot project and coordinating collection service details with the selected local waste hauler Dale Levitt Disposal (DLD) in Urbana. DLD will offer pilot project participants flexible collection options (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) at a service subscription rate of $6 per each 32-gallon container.

Additional funding received from the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois will allow CCES to provide 32-gallon collection containers for separate stream collection of commercial food scrap at no cost to pilot project participants.

Benefits of participation include:

  • Less odor, weight, and volume of landfill-bound trash, resulting in a potential reduction of waste hauling costs
  • Recognition as an organization that composts
  • Benefits to the environment–less food in landfills means less greenhouse gas emissions
  • Benefits to the local community–gardens and landscapers purchase locally-sourced compost from the LRC, and pilot participants will be contributing to the production of that compost

CCES recruiting participants

Businesses interested in being part of this pilot project should contact Scott Tess, srtess@urbanaillinois.us, (217) 384-2381.

Development of this pilot project was spearheaded by CCES board member Grace Wilken, in collaboration with CCES Executive Director and Champaign County Recycling Coordinator Susan Monte, and City of Urbana Sustainability & Resilience Officer, Scott Tess.

Lessons learned from the pilot will hopefully allow for the development of permanent commercial food scrap composting service in the area in the future.

To learn more about CCES, visit https://www.ccenvstew.com/. Sign up for the CCES newsletter to receive updates on this and other initiatives at https://mailchi.mp/ace7dcc98d86/newsletter.

This post originally appeared on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC) Blog. Thanks to IFSC and the CCES Board of Directors for allowing ISTC to share this post.

Illinois Farm to Food Bank Project connects specialty growers with food banks

Peaches being washed in a crate
Photo credit: Zach Samaras

This fall, the Illinois Farm to Food Bank program wrapped up its pilot project with Rendleman and Flamm Orchards in Union County. Nearly 375,000 pounds of peaches and nectarines were distributed to food banks throughout Illinois.

Michelle Sirles of Rendleman Orchards said, “The Farmer to Food Bank Pilot was a HUGE Success. Every single person we worked with went above and beyond to make this a successful pilot year. It could not have come at a better time with the over abundance of peaches nationwide. It prevents a lot of peach dumping. It recouped farmers costs while providing fresh and healthy food for those in need. As a farmer we felt completely supported by Illinois Farm Bureau, our politicians, our state university, and our food bank partners. I truly feel this could be a shining star program for our state.”

The program also connected Roth Countryside Produce, located in Tazewell County, with a Peoria Area Food Bank agency to purchase $1750 worth of sweet corn, green cabbage, red cabbage, green beans, cantaloupe, bell peppers, green zucchini, golden zucchini, and seedless cucumbers.

Keep up to date with the program through the Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study newsletter. If you’re a grower who wants to participate in the project, contact TAP.

US EPA releases report on environmental impacts of US food waste

EPA infographic on environmental impacts of US food waste
Image from US EPA Office of Research and Development.

On November 30, 2021, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new report entitled “From Farm to Kitchen: The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste (Part 1).”

This report reveals the climate and environmental impacts of producing, processing, distributing, and retailing food that is ultimately wasted and projects the environmental benefits of meeting the US goal to prevent 50 percent of food waste by 2030. The report was prepared to inform domestic policymakers, researchers, and the public, and focuses primarily on five inputs to the US cradle-to-consumer food supply chain — agricultural land use, water use, application of pesticides and fertilizers, and energy use — plus one environmental impact — greenhouse gas emissions.

This report provides estimates of the environmental footprint of current levels of food loss and waste to assist stakeholders in clearly communicating the significance; decision-making among competing environmental priorities; and designing tailored reduction strategies that maximize environmental benefits. The report also identifies key knowledge gaps where new research could improve our understanding of US food loss and waste and help shape successful strategies to reduce its environmental impact.

The new report reveals that each year, the resources attributed to US food loss and waste are equivalent to:

  • 140 million acres agricultural land – an area the size of California and New York combined;
  • 5.9 trillion gallons blue water – equal to the annual water use of 50 million American homes;
  • 778 million pounds pesticides;
  • 14 billion pounds fertilizer – enough to grow all the plant-based foods produced each year in the United States for domestic consumption;
  • 664 billion kWh energy – enough to power more than 50 million US homes for a year; and
  • 170 million MTCO2e greenhouse gas emissions (excluding landfill emissions) – equal to the annual CO2 emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants

In short, significant resources go into growing, processing, packaging, storing, and distributing food. Thus, the most important action we can take to reduce the environmental impacts of uneaten food is to prevent that food from becoming waste in the first place.

A companion report, “The Environmental Impacts of U.S. Food Waste: Part 2,” will examine and compare the environmental impacts of a range of management pathways for food waste, such as landfilling, composting, and anaerobic digestion. EPA plans to complete and release this second report in Spring 2022. Together, these two reports will encompass the net environmental footprint of US food loss and waste.

Read the full report at https://www.epa.gov/system/files/documents/2021-11/from-farm-to-kitchen-the-environmental-impacts-of-u.s.-food-waste_508-tagged.pdf.  (PDF document, 113 pages)

For questions, contact Shannon Kenny, Senior Advisor, Food Loss and Food Waste, US EPA Office of Research and Development.

ISTC program looks ahead to renewable energy waste issues

Solar array

As renewable energy is poised to replace fossil fuels long term in Illinois, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) is delving into a looming issue: what to do with solar modules, wind turbines, and electric vehicle batteries that are no longer used. Keeping these products out of landfills is the primary goal.

ISTC’s Renewable Energy Equipment Recover-Reuse Program has expanded from focusing specifically on solar module reuse and recycling to creating additional partnerships with organizations involved in wind energy and electric storage technologies and systems. This comprehensive view is especially significant because of the recent passage of the Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, which aims to expand the development of renewable energy to deliver 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Through consumer incentives, the act also plans to add more than 1 million electric vehicles to Illinois roads by 2030.

“While we encourage the growth of renewable energy, we also see the issue of handling used equipment as a big problem that’s quickly approaching,” said Jennifer Martin, ISTC environmental program development specialist. “We are looking to prepare a strategic plan with solutions for reusing and recycling renewable energy equipment in Illinois and surrounding states.”

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that Illinois currently has 2 million solar modules installed in the state. ISTC estimates between 100,000 to 600,000 modules in Illinois will reach their end of life and will need to be managed by 2030. By that time, there could also be 11 million tons of lithium-ion battery waste from electric vehicles in the U.S., according to the International Energy Agency.

The first wind farm in Illinois was established in 2006. A wind turbine’s estimated service life is 15 to 25 years, so the turbines installed on the state’s first wind farm are now starting to reach end of life. As of December 2020, more than 3,000 utility-scale turbines have been installed in Illinois, a number that will continue to grow, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the American Clean Power Association.

Turbine blade composition can make them difficult to transport, recycle, and landfill. These statistics show the enormity of the equipment waste issue now and in the years to come.

Martin and other ISTC staff are evaluating regional environmental and economic impacts on equipment and materials, modeling scenarios, and developing strategies to address viable and cost-effective recycling and repurposing of used solar modules, wind turbines, and lithium batteries for electric vehicles.

A crucial element of the program will be developing and fostering a network of stakeholders of waste management companies, recyclers, manufacturers, industry associations, state agencies, and academic institutions to evaluate issues and solutions.

Martin has been working with a solar end-of-life working group for three years to explore options for handling the waste. Currently, much of the used equipment ends up in landfills.

Materials recycling has great potential, but the present small volumes of end-of-life solar modules can present a problem for system owners. It is now more economical for solar owners to toss materials away than recycle them, Martin said.

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the cost of landfilling solar-power equipment can typically range between $1 to $5 per module, while the cost of recycling is between $15 to $25. This doesn’t include the decommissioning labor and shipping fees.

Reusing is another alternative. Solar panels that are replaced can still have between 70 to 95 percent of their useful life. These panels could be donated for use by schools, park shelters, and other sites. However, there is no state or nationwide network set up to connect entities interested in used modules with solar farm owners.

Electric vehicle batteries can also be recycled, refurbished to their original usage, or repurposed. Recycling helps divert materials from landfills while recovering critical materials that could lessen the U.S. dependence on foreign markets and imports.

A key component of the program is to determine the infrastructure for recycling and repurposing that needs to be in place so renewable energy equipment isn’t taking up limited landfill space and helps to create a more circular economy.

Media contact: Jennifer Martin, 217-300-3593, jm33@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

New case study: Tiny Bubbles Mean Big Energy Savings for Henry POTW

Example of micro bubble aeration floats Credit: John Jacobs, WTR Solutions
Example of micro bubble aeration floats Credit: John Jacobs, WTR Solutions

With assistance provided through TAP’s Public Water Infrastructure Plant Efficiency Program, the City of Henry Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) replaced their existing lagoon aeration system with Micro Bubble Diffusion (MBD) technology, resulting in significant energy cost savings and a reduction in the dissolved solids present in their treatment lagoons.

Read the full case study.

Farmers show interest in Farm to Food Bank Program

shipping crate of peaches
Credit: Zach Samaras

While thousands of Illinoisans go hungry every day, up to 40 percent of food goes uneaten. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), Feeding Illinois, and other organizations are partnering to explore new, viable ways to connect farmers directly with food banks to increase the state’s food supply for the food insecure and reduce waste.

The Farm to Food Bank program partners are conducting a feasibility study for a statewide program, identifying approaches to address barriers, evaluating logistical challenges, and uncovering locally appropriate strategies. The result will be a roadmap used to roll out a state-funded program in Illinois, according to Zach Samaras, ISTC technical assistance engineer.

Besides ISTC and Feeding Illinois, study collaborators include the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. In the first year, the team has conducted a farmer survey, started a pilot project, and visited the eight state food banks.

Farmer survey

One of the first actions was to create and distribute a statewide survey to farmers. Questions pertained to the type of product that farmers produce, their marketing strategies, barriers to production, and food losses. Slightly less than 10 percent of survey participants responded. The next step is survey analysis.

Farmers are also being recruited for focus groups to be held at an agricultural conference in early winter. This will be an opportunity for the collaborators to gauge farmers’ interest in the possibility of participating in a Farm to Food Bank program and collect further information on factors that would make participation more feasible for producers. Those interested in participating in focus groups should contact ISTC at info-istc@illinois.edu.

Pilot project

In the first pilot project, which started this summer, Rendleman Orchards in Alto Pass donated grade 2 peaches to a food bank in southern Illinois. Grade 2 produce is typically small or has slight blemishes.

The organizations are looking to find an optimal mixture of incentives for farmers to participate in the program. In this case, the farm receives a tax deduction for the donated produce and reimbursement from Feeding Illinois and the food banks for the “pick and pack” costs.

The pilot project quickly scaled up from two pallets of peaches transported to one food bank in southern Illinois to over 40 pallets sent to four food banks in various parts of the state.

“While we are very happy with the numbers, our biggest goal was to build relationships between the farmers and the food banks and develop a process that could work for a variety of farms across the state,” said Samaras. “We certainly feel like we are on the right track.”

Farmer feedback

Since the program began, farmers have been receptive to learning more about the opportunity, said Steve Ericson, executive director of Feeding Illinois. Actual participation has been more challenging because once the growing, harvest, and marketing seasons begin, farmers find it too disruptive to start or change plans already in place. Also, it is important not to interfere with existing relationships farmers have with food pantries, which are distribution centers that receive food from food banks.

“The primary thing we’ve learned in this first year is that this is a learning year, Ericson said. “The interest is definitely there. In general and by nature, farmers are community-oriented. ‘Helping others’ is in their DNA. We want this program to provide a meaningful way for them to do that as a group and individually.”

A major future challenge will be determining the logistics of transporting a certain volume of produce efficiently from the farm to food banks. The growing season for specialty crops in Illinois is only six months long, a time when farmers are consumed with work at the farm. Another barrier is that Illinois’ specialty crop farms are for the most part smaller and more widespread than those in other renowned produce states.

Convincing farmers that it is worthwhile to build business relationships with food banks versus contributing locally will take time to instill and to prove the benefits, Ericson said.

The Farm to Food Bank program is supported by the USDA through The Emergency Food Assistance Program. For more information, visit the Farm to Food Bank Program website.

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Media contact: Zach Samaras, 217-265-6723, zsamaras@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

Meet Zach Samaras, Technical Assistance Engineer, Sustainability

Zach Samaras, technical assistance engineer, sustainability

by Tiffany Jolley, Prairie Research Institute

Listen to Coastal Hazards Specialist Vidya Balasubramanyam on the Teach Me About the Great Lakes podcast

On the July 19 episode of the Teach Me About the Great Lakes podcast, hosts Stuart Carlton and Carolyn Foley spoke with ISTC Coastal Hazards Specialist Vidya Balasubramanyam about lake level change and her work with municipalities to adapt to it. Tune in for an all-too-rare dose of optimism and a particular fact about donuts that, while true, we hadn’t considered before.