NRDC Releases “Food Matters” Resources to Guide Municipal Food Waste Efforts

The words "food matters" over a background image of various fruits and vegetables. Image from NRDC web site.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has announced the availability of a compendium of resources from its “Food Matters” project. The resources are meant to assist municipalities as they tackle various food waste issues.

From the full press release:

“The Food Matters Program and Policy Toolkit is designed for city policymakers and agency staff nationwide who are seeking to advance a program or implement policies to prevent food from becoming waste, increase donation of surplus food, and recycle food scraps. Alongside the toolkit is a curated set of guides to tackle food waste at the local level which have proven successful in NRDC’s work with Food Matters cities. The toolkit and templates are designed to meet cities at different stages of their food waste journey, providing users with practical resources to take both incremental steps towards city-wide change as well as bold accelerated strategies.”

Case studies from cities such as Baltimore, Denver, Nashville, and New York are included in the resource compendium.

View the full compendium on the NRDC web site.

How to safely flush plumbing systems and re-open facilities after shut-down

by Jeremy Overmann, Chemist & Water Treatment Specialist
ISTC Institutional Water Treatment services group

The domestic plumbing systems in any building or part of a building that has been shut down or has experienced reduced use due to COVID-19 policies are at risk for causing disease and death due to the effects of increased water age, including corrosion and growth of bacteria. Before re-opening any such building, take steps to minimize these risks and include consultation with a licensed plumber.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has a general guidance document for returning these systems to regular use. In Attachment B (Section II, Step 2. b), IDPH recommends setting the water heater to at least 120 degrees F prior to flushing the domestic hot water plumbing.

We recommend a higher temperature of at least 142 degrees F as this will kill Legionella bacteria in the heater within 30 minutes. However, do not use water at this temperature for flushing if the building’s drain waste vent (DWV) materials and/or plumbing system components cannot handle this higher temperature.

WARNING: 142 degree F water can cause third degree burns in seconds. Note that Legionella bacteria can continue to grow at temperatures up to 122 degrees F.

The Environmental Science Policy and Research Institute has written a useful guidance document, Reducing Risk to Staff Flushing Buildings, which offers best practices for flushing building water systems in a way that keeps facility staff safe.

Use the IDPH guidance in conjunction with your facility’s Legionella Water Management Program (WMP). If none exists, we recommend writing a remediation and/or recommissioning plan, then later developing a full WMP. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers a free training program on how to write a WMP and a toolkit to assist in developing a WMP.

Additional recommendations

Drinking Fountains: If these were shut off and/or not used for a period of time, they should be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s instructions before being used again for drinking.

Chlorine levels: The Illinois EPA requires a minimum of 0.5 parts per million Free Chlorine or 1.0 parts per million Total chlorine (also called Combined chlorine) in drinking water, unless a facility has been given an exemption (this is rare, but applies in some cases to facilities supplied with clean well water).

After re-opening, we recommend maintaining 142 degrees F or higher in all domestic water heaters and storage tanks, and 124 degrees F or higher in all recirculating domestic hot water systems for the purpose of reducing the risk of Legionnaire’s Disease. Note that delivered water at fixtures must meet local and state plumbing codes for maximum safe temperature to prevent scalding. The best way to achieve Legionella risk reduction and anti-scalding is to maintain high temperature in tanks and recirculating systems and employ thermostatic mixing valves just prior to point of use fixtures.

Finally, we recommend documenting all actions you take to prepare facilities for re-opening.

For more information

About the Institutional Water Treatment services group

The Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) services group, a unit of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center at the University of Illinois, provides unbiased, professional water treatment advice to facilities equipped with industrial water systems including cooling towers, chillers, boilers, etc. If you need assistance with addressing system start-up due to COVID-19 or other related services, including legionella monitoring, please contact Jeremy Overmann  or Mike Springman.

COVID-19 tools from the Wasted Food Action Alliance

This story originally appeared in the April 2020 Food & Beverage Manufacturing News. This monthly newsletter, focused on sustainability for the food and beverage industry, is a service of ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and is funded through a grant from U.S. EPA. You can subscribe to the newsletter here. 

COVID-19 is likely to have a prolonged impact on the health and well-being of residents in the greater Chicago foodshed which includes a 4-state region. A collaboration of local and regional food systems advocates created a matchmaking tool to connect needs and surplus in the Illinois institutional food system. Examples of listings include:

  • Those with a surplus of meat or vegetables that need a home
  • Those looking for local food to serve to displaced constituents
  • Those with a need for extra hands at their facilities (milkers, kitchen staff, drivers)
  • Those looking for job opportunities after their institution has closed or reduced labor
  • Those with additional storage space for food that needs to be preserved

In addition, the Wasted Food Action Alliance is conducting a survey [EnglishSpanishArabic] of small- and medium-size farms and for-profit and nonprofit food businesses/organizations impacted by COVID-19. This is not a one-time information-gathering process, but an ongoing effort to respond to challenges that can lead to a more sustainable food system. This is not a research project. You can complete the questionnaire multiple times as new challenges arise. Producers from all over Illinois are encouraged to complete the survey.

The Wasted Food Action Alliance is a diverse set of organizations helping build a unified approach towards reducing wasted food and leveraging it to benefit the state. Its mission is to develop a working strategy and action platform that makes Illinois a leader in reducing wasted food by connecting and building on current wasted food initiatives, education, and policy in unified ways that holistically promote source reduction; food recovery for hunger relief and other uses; and recovery of food scraps for composting and creating healthy soil.

Illinois EPA Pilots New Food Waste Curriculum in Springfield Schools

This post was written by Amanda Price and originally appeared on ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge microsite, which features archived resources from a past project focused on food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools, as well as periodic posts related to food waste issues and resources for food waste reduction in other sectors, such as health care.

We’re grateful to Amanda for sharing her experiences teaching the new food waste curriculum to Illinois students and thrilled to hear about students inspired to take action. All photos are courtesy of Amanda Price.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign  Office for Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education (MSTE) to create a two-week food waste curriculum unit for fifth and sixth grade educators. The unit is aligned to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and will be free and available online at the end of May 2020. It will be housed with the first unit created by MSTE and Illinois EPA on surface water and algae on the Environmental Pathways website.

Classroom image of Amanda Price presenting food waste unit to elementary students seated at desksAmanda Price piloted the unit in two fifth grade science classes at Butler Elementary and Sandburg Elementary February-March 2020. Both schools are located in Springfield, IL. Amanda works as a Graduate Public Service Intern (GPSI) in the offices of Environmental Education and Community Relations at Illinois EPA. The GPSI program places University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) graduate students in state agency internships in for the duration of their studies. Amanda will earn a master’s degree in Environmental Sciences this May 2020. She taught the unit as part of her capstone graduate project.

The food waste unit follows the NGSS investigative storyline model that is Three boys gather around the jar they are working on and smile at the cameradriven by student questions. It teaches students the importance of food waste reduction, landfill diversion, and composting as part of a circular food system. Students create “landfills in a jar” with materials given to them with the goal of protecting the sand, or “groundwater,” at the bottom of the jar. Students also create “compost in a jar” using fresh food scraps and other compostable materials. Students monitor their jars throughout the unit and record scientific data such as temperature and mass. They learn how bacteria act as decomposers. The unit also incorporates map-reading and asks students to think critically about the pros and cons of choosing space for new landfill construction.

Elementary students sorting food waste in a school cafeteriaThe main hands-on activity in the unit is a food waste audit, which can be performed at various scales. Students use data from the audit to calculate the estimated food wasted per person, during the school year, etc. Students end the unit by creating a community awareness or action plan to inform their community or advocate for change. A few students at Butler Elementary wrote a letter to the principal asking him to install a clock in the cafeteria so students could track how much time they had to eat. The principal took swift action and ordered the clock.

Illinois EPA looks forward to sharing the free curriculum with both formal and informal educators around the state. The unit helps increase students’ environmental awareness and stewardship and is best paired with action to reduce waste in the school.

Expert viewpoint: Could Legionnaires’ bacteria lurk in idled buildings?

Editor’s note:  To contact Jeremy Overmann, email joverman@illinois.edu.

Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools now available for download

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, the Wasted Food Action Alliance is pleased to announce the release of the Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools. Though schools throughout the state are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this toolkit will allow districts and food service staff members to make plans for food waste reduction efforts when schools are able to welcome back students and staff in person.

The Wasted Food Action Alliance is a diverse set of organizations helping build a unified approach towards reducing wasted food and leveraging it to benefit our region. Its mission is to develop a working strategy and action platform that makes Illinois a leader in reducing wasted food by connecting and building on current wasted food initiatives, education, and policy in unified ways that holistically promote source reduction; food recovery for hunger relief and other uses; and recovery of food scraps for composting and creating healthy soil.

Joy Scrogum, a member of ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), is part of the Wasted Food Action Alliance subcommittee which developed the school food waste reduction toolkit. Joy coordinated ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge project, and continues to work on food waste prevention and reduction through TAP’s work with clients, the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition, and related local and regional projects. The Wasted Food Action Alliance school toolkit subcommittee was lead by Seven Generations Ahead.

Cover of Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois SchoolsWhat’s the problem with food waste in schools?

Over 7 billion school meals are served each year in the United States. Much of this food, however, is currently feeding landfills instead of nourishing students. This is while one in six children is food insecure. When food is landfilled, not only are its nutrients lost, so are all the energy, water, and labor that went into producing, transporting, and preparing it. K-12 schools have a unique role in teaching students to value food instead of wasting it.

The Food Waste Reduction Toolkit for Illinois Schools can help.

The Toolkit is a comprehensive resource that provides all schools, no matter their size or location, the tools to tackle the issue of wasted food. It identifies the main sources of wasted food and offers strategies for food waste prevention, recovery and redistribution, composting, education and engagement, and celebrating success. A variety of solutions are shared–from easy and quick to implement to longer term and more resource intensive.

The Toolkit’s easy to use format allows you to jump in to find the strategies that work for your school. Each section includes case studies that highlight inspirational efforts to reduce food waste in schools across Illinois and provides guidance on:

Measuring food waste

  • Waste audit guides
  • How to determine what to audit in your lunchroom and kitchen
  • Food waste tracking in kitchens
  • Analyzing waste audit data

Preventing food waste

  • Sourcing food from school gardens and local farms to encourage consumption of healthy foods
  • Menu planning and food preparation
  • Preventing food waste at the serving line, including Offer versus Serve

Recovering and redistributing surplus food

  • Policies and laws regarding share tables and the redistribution of food (including the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act that supports the donation of recovered food)
  • How to set up and operate a share table
  • Redistribution of surplus food within a school
  • Donation of surplus food to an outside organization or in-school food pantry

Composting food scraps

  • The environmental benefits of composting
  • Onsite composting
  • Offsite commercial composting
  • How to get started composting in your lunchroom

Educating and engaging the school community

  • Hands-on classroom or service learning projects
  • Curricula and lessons about food and food waste
  • Teaching tools and resources

Communicating and celebrating success

  • Communications within school community
  • Communications with the wider community
  • Get recognized with programs such as Green Ribbon Schools and the U.S. Food Waste Challenge

The toolkit is available on the Wasted Food Action Alliance web site.

 

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.

How can I help influence the takeout containers restaurants are purchasing?

Have a question about living a greener life? Joy Scrogum's work focuses on food waste, waste reduction, and reuse. Ask her anything about being more sustainable. We'll post her answers next week.This is the first in a periodic series of Ask Me Anything (AMA) posts where ISTC features a researcher on our Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts and solicits questions from our followers. We post the answers on the original platform and also aggregate them into a wrap-up blog post. Our first featured researcher is Joy Scrogum.

Question (from Facebook): I like to order takeout food from the many amazing restaurants in my neighborhood, but cringe at all the waste this generates. Some of this serveware I can compost and recycle, but some of it I cannot.  How can I help influence the takeout containers restaurants are purchasing?

Joy: I’m glad you’re thinking about this. consumers really have more power than they tend to think. First of all, let me note that during the current pandemic, we all have to make allowances for the takeout containers being used by our local restaurants. It’s fabulous that they’re open and delivering. It’s important to support them during this difficult time and recognize that exploring new packaging is, of course, not a priority for them now. One thing you can do when ordering takeout is remember to ask a restaurant to not include unnecessary disposable items with your order (e.g. plastic utensils, napkins, condiment packets, plastic straws, etc.). That will not only prevent waste, but also save them a little money and reduce the opportunity for contamination as we practice social distancing.

When we’ve gotten past this pandemic, the easiest thing you can do is voice your concerns about packaging to the manager of a restaurant, along with your reasoning (e.g. polystyrene foam, aka Styrofoam, its persistence, difficulty/inability to recycle in your area, etc.). Always start on a positive note by letting them know what you enjoy about their food and service, if you’re a long-time customer, etc., and then tell them what’s troubling you, so the conversation doesn’t seem like an attack.

It’s also important to bear in mind that businesses, especially small ones, are making decisions based on costs. So when you speak or write to someone with your concerns, acknowledge that price is an issue for them and be prepared to provide some tools that might help them choose “greener” options available at similar or better prices than what  they’re currently using. The Product Stewardship Institute (PSI) has developed the Foodware Cost Calculator, which allows restaurants or other foodservice operations to compare the costs of their currently used disposable products to reusable options (e.g. plastic utensils vs. real silverware) or alternative disposable items (e.g. recyclable, compostable, made with recycled content, etc.). PSI also has a guidance document that can help businesses reduce their plastic footprint, and understand the benefits, called 3 Steps to Reduce Plastic & Benefit Your Business. You might also point out examples of preferable packaging used by other businesses in your area or elsewhere to help make the case for what is possible. A few examples that come to mind include Just Salad, which uses reusable to-go packaging, and Farmer’s Fridge, which operates fresh-food vending machines using recyclable and reusable containers. 

You can always use existing consumers ratings mechanisms, such as Yelp, Google, or Facebook, to express support for businesses using greener packaging or dismay at a restaurant with great food but problematic to-go packaging. An interesting new app from developers in Colorado is called PlasticScore. It allows you to provide feedback to restaurants on single-use plastic, as well as see waste-related ratings of nearby restaurants so you can support businesses practices that align with your values. It’s pretty new (just launched in March 2020), so you might not find a lot of information applicable to your area right now, but you could certainly contribute your own feedback to help expand their database.

Another thing to keep in mind related to compostable packaging is that sort of packaging only degrades properly in commercial composting operations (e.g. services that pick up compostables from a business or via residential drop-off or curbside composting programs). Backyard compost piles don’t attain the proper temperatures or other conditions to effectively break down those items. So before asking a restaurant to switch to compostable items, check to see if commercial composting is available in your area. It’s unfortunately true that such service is not available in many areas of Illinois.

I’m a proud member of the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition (IFSC), which is working to expand food scrap composting in our state. Check the IFSC’s online list of haulers and compost processors to see if commercial food scrap composting exists in your area. If so, you can let your favorite restaurants know, and also point out that if they decide to start composting their food scraps and compostable packaging, they could receive recognition through IFSC’s We Compost program.

Finally, you can influence restaurants and other diners through your own example. When we’re all able to dine-in at our favorite restaurants again, consider taking your own reusable food storage container or foil from home for packing any leftovers, instead of asking the restaurant for a box. When people see you doing this, it can spark conversation about packaging and may inspire someone else to do the same. Many coffee shops offer discounts for folks who bring in their own reusable mug. Be sure to ask if your favorite shop does this, so they know there is interest, and remember to take advantage of such incentives where they exist.

Note: ISTC does not endorse, either explicitly or implicitly, any particular manufacturer, vendor, product or service. Information about specific products, manufacturers or vendors is provided for reference only.

COVID-19 and Facility Water Systems Management

ISTC’s Institutional Water Treatment (IWT) program has developed a set of recommendations for facility managers to help them maintain their water systems in light of new federal, state, and local COVID-19 policies that change building use patterns.

If you have questions or need assistance, contact:

  • Jeremy Overmann: joverman@illinois.edu or (217) 333-5903
  • Angie DiAscro: DiAscro2@illinois.edu or (217) 300-3882
  • Cameron Dillion: dillion2@illinois.edu or (217) 244-0179
  • Jenn Tapuaiga: jenn210@illinois.edu or (217) 300-0084
  • Mike Springman: springma@illinois.edu or (618) 468-2780