Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding now available to support recycling and composting

Three colorful bins, labelled "Compost," "Waste," and "Recycle" sit side by side. Each bin's label shows photos of materials that should be placed inside.
Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

On November 17, 2022 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the availability of $100 million in grants for recycling infrastructure and recycling education and outreach projects throughout the country.

The Solid Waste Infrastructure for Recycling (SWIFR) Grant Program is divided into several funding opportunities. Information on the State and Territory Grant Program and the Political Subdivisions Grant Program is currently available on the U. S. EPA website, with information on the Tribal Grant Program coming soon.

SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program

Entities eligible to apply for funding through the SWIFR Political Subdivisions Grant Program include “Political subdivisions” of states and territories, such as counties, cities, towns, parishes, and similar units of governments that have executive and legislative functions to be political subdivisions of states and territories.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award amount is $500,000 and the maximum individual award is $4,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials and waste streams considered under this announcement include:

  • Municipal solid waste (MSW), including plastics, organics, paper, metal, glass, etc. and construction and demolition (C&D) debris.
  • In addition, materials and waste streams considered include the management pathways of source reduction, reuse, sending materials to material recovery facilities, composting, industrial uses (e.g., rendering, anaerobic digestion (AD)), and feeding animals.

All applications must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize collection and improve materials management infrastructure.
  • Fund the creation and construction of tangible infrastructure, technology, or other improvements to reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream.
  • Establish, increase, expand, or optimize capacity for materials management.
  • Establish, improve, expand, or optimize end-markets for the use of recycled commodities.
  • Demonstrate a significant and measurable increase in the diversion, recycling rate, and quality of materials collected for municipal solid waste.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Innovative solutions and/or programs that provide or increase access to prevention, reuse, and recycling in areas that currently do not have access; including development of and/or upgrades to drop-off and transfer stations (including but not limited to a hub-and-spoke model in rural communities), etc.
  • The purchase of recycling equipment, including but not limited to sorting equipment, waste metering, trucks, processing facilities, etc.
  • Upgrades to material recovery facilities (MRFs) such as optical sorters, artificial intelligence, etc.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to composting facilities or anaerobic digesters to increase capacity for organics recycling.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to curbside collection programs or drop-off stations for organics.
  • Development of and/or upgrades to reuse infrastructure such as online reuse platforms, community repair spaces, technology and equipment to improve materials management reuse options, food donation, and upcycling, staging areas for material reuse/donation, reuse warehouses, and reuse centers, and electronic waste and computer recycling and refurbishing.

Recycling Education and Outreach (REO) Grant Program

The REO Grant Program includes $30 million in funding for projects to improve consumer education and outreach on waste prevention, reuse, recycling, and composting. The grants aim to reduce waste generation, decrease contamination in the recycling stream, and increase recycling rates across the country in a manner that is equitable for all.

Eligible applicants include:

  • U.S. States, including Washington, D.C.
  • Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Local governments.
  • Federally recognized tribal governments.
  • Native Hawaiian organizations, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
  • Nonprofit organizations.
  • Public-private partnerships.

Applications Due: January 16, 2023
Notice of Intent to Apply Deadline: December 15, 2022
Funding Available: The minimum individual award floor is $250,000, and the maximum individual award ceiling is $2,000,000 for the grant period.
Grant Period: Up to 3 years

Materials within the scope of this grant program include commonly recycled materials, such as aluminum and steel containers, glass, cardboard paper, and plastics, as well as food, organics (yard and tree trimmings, wood, etc.), textiles, batteries, and electronics. Also within the scope of this grant program are education and outreach activities that prevent or reduce waste by reducing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, recycling, composting, or using anaerobic digestor systems to treat these types of materials or to reduce related contamination.

All projects must encourage the collection of recyclable materials and must achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  • Inform the public about residential or community recycling programs.
  • Provide information about the recycled materials that are accepted as part of a residential or community recycling program that provides for the separate collection of residential solid waste from recycled material.
  • Increase collection rates and decrease contamination in residential and community recycling programs.

Eligible activities include (but are not limited to):

  • Public service announcements.
  • Door-to-door education and outreach campaigns.
  • Social media and digital outreach.
  • An advertising campaign on recycling awareness.
  • The development and dissemination of:
    • a toolkit for a municipal and commercial recycling program.
    • information on the importance of quality in the recycling stream.
    • information on the benefits of recycling.
    • information on what happens to materials after the materials are placed in the bin.
  • Businesses recycling outreach.
  • Bin, cart, and other receptacle labeling and signs.
  • Community ambassador education programs or training the trainer programs.
  • Other education and outreach activities to improve waste prevention, reuse, and recycling, and reduce contamination, such as evaluations and evidence-based messaging and strategies associated with preventing or reducing waste and improving reuse, repair, refurbish, and remanufacture of materials.

Learn more

“Green” your Halloween with these seasonal waste diversion programs

What do the members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program’s zero waste team fear the most? Unnecessary waste! Think about all the products and packaging sent off to be prematurely buried in landfills before their useful “lives” are truly over–it makes our blood run cold. To avoid being haunted by the ghosts of poorly managed materials, check out the following Halloween waste diversion programs to keep waste out of landfills.

Please note that links and/or mentions of organizations or businesses are provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as endorsements by the Technical Assistance Program, ISTC, the Prairie Research Institute, or the University of Illinois.

Pumpkin Smash Events

Did you know that IL leads the nation in production of pumpkins? Did you further know that pumpkins are mostly water? A great deal of labor, land, water, and other resources are invested in growing, harvesting, and distributing pumpkins in our state, and many of them end up being used for brief decorations that may wind up in landfills after Halloween has passed.

Pumpkin “Smash” events are events to collect jack-o-lanterns and other pumpkins for composting. They’re held on the Saturday after Halloween (November 5th this year), and may involve fun activities in which people can “smash” their pumpkins by throwing them into a designated dumpster or compost heap. Some events even involve pumpkin “chucking” with catapults! SCARCE has helped Pumpkin Smashes grow to over 59 sites across IL since 2014, and their efforts have even inspired communities outside of IL to host their own pumpkin collections. According to the SCARCE website, the 2021 Pumpkin Smash events collectively composted over 242 tons of pumpkins! See https://www.scarce.org/pumpkins/ for more information, including a map of registered events in the state, a guide for hosting a Pumpkin Smash to help with planning for next year, a form to register your local event so it will be included on the aforementioned map, and example flyers and other resources to help spread the word. See this recent Illinois Food Scrap Coalition blog post and flyer developed by Go Green Winnetka for further information.

Flyer for Pumpkin Smash Event at the Landscape Recycling Center in Urbana, IL.

Candy Wrapper Recycling Programs

When you’re hosting a Halloween party or having kids trick-or-treat at the homes of people you know and trust, there are opportunities to pass out/receive homemade or minimally-packaged bulk treats and reduce the amount of plastic packaging associated with Halloween festivities. However, the reality is that many people pass out candy to or collect candy from strangers; plus, many of us like to purchase Halloween candy to share with coworkers or our family during the month of October as part of celebrating. The result is lots of plastic packaging ending up in landfills because such material is not collected in typical recycling programs because the form or components of the packaging make them difficult to recycle. There are however, a couple of options that can help divert the seasonal increase in candy wrappers from the landfill.

Trick or trash box
Trick or Trash collection box available from Rubicon.

Rubicon, in collaboration with the National Wildlife Foundation, annually offers a Trick or Trash program, in which schools, independent small businesses, and community organizations can order FREE candy wrapper collection boxes. Organizations receive their collection boxes through the UPS Carbon Neutral Shipment program, set them up and collect wrappers until their box is full. Then, boxes are sealed and mailed back using a pre-affixed label. Each participating organization gets a certificate of recycling confirming how many wrappers they diverted from landfill. The recycled plastic can be used to make “doggie bags” used at animal shelters for animal waste collection. See https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/how-it-works/ for more information, and https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/#block_5aee8cc625f6cfa2532fd2b387a4e675 to order a free box. Educational materials, including lesson plans, are available at https://www.rubicon.com/trick-or-trash/education/. Note that teachers and organizations are limited to one free box to ensure that more people across the country can participate, and you should allow at least a week for shipping. So if you order a free box now, you might plan to collect wrappers right after Halloween, rather than at Halloween events. Individuals or larger business might choose to purchase a box for participation.

TerraCycle also sells “zero waste boxes” for various hard-to-recycle waste streams, including candy and snack wrapper zero waste boxes. That company also collaborates with various Subaru locations nationwide that host collection boxes for items including disposable cups, lids, straws, candy and snack wrappers, and coffee and creamer capsules. Learn more on the TerraCycle Subaru Loves the Earth web page and search for a participating location near you.

Learn more about reducing and reusing on Halloween

Joy Scrogum recognized as P2 Ambassador by National Pollution Prevention Roundtable

The National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR) has recognized ISTC assistant sustainability scientist Joy Scrogum as the recipient of the 2022 Fred Granek Memorial P2 Ambassador Award.

NPPR established the award in honor of Fred Granek, who suddenly passed away in January, 2014. It recognizes those who travel beyond their own borders to share information, ideas, and technologies that will avoid, eliminate and reduce waste.

Joy works with clients of ISTC’s technical assistance program (TAP) to identify opportunities to alter, improve, or introduce processes, operations, and activities to foster sustainability (including environmental, social, and economic factors). She primarily focuses on zero waste; sustainability planning, goal setting & visioning; communications about sustainability efforts; and stakeholder engagement.

In her twenty-one years at ISTC, she has made a significant impact at the local, state, regional, national, and international level by sharing pollution prevention information, ideas, and technologies. During her tenure, she has:

  • Developed the idea, found campus partners, and successfully applied for seed funding for the Illini Gadget Garage, a collaborative repair center for student- and staff-owned electronic devices at the University of Illinois. As of December 2018, the Gadget Garage had diverted a total of 905.2 lbs. of materials from the waste stream through repair and special materials recycling.
  • Managed the International Sustainable Electronics Competition , a student design competition that encouraged students to consider sustainability throughout the product lifecycle when designing electronics, as well as ways to reuse scrap electronic components in new products. 
  • Developed and ran the Green Lunchroom Challenge, a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their food service operations, which was funded by a grant from U.S. EPA. Although the project is no longer funded, Joy still maintains a web archive for the project and a blog on related issues.
  • Worked with the University of Illinois College of Engineering to develop and teach a class entitled “Sustainable Technology: Environmental & Social Impacts of Innovations.”
  • Developed and taught a course on reuse as a sustainability strategy for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Illinois.
  • Facilitated networking and information sharing among P2 technical assistance providers at both the regional and national levels through her work with the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable and the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange.

In addition to her work at ISTC, Joy is a board member of the Champaign County Environmental Stewards, an organization that fosters waste reduction and the ability of area citizens to responsibly manage materials by advancing improved local options for recycling, composting food scraps, and the safe and convenient disposal of household hazardous waste.

She also serves on the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition’s communications committee. In this role, she promotes IFSC news, as well as general information about food scrap composting and related issues in Illinois and beyond.

Finally, she served on the board of directors for a non-profit that gave rise to the Idea Store, a creative reuse center located in Urbana, IL.

Celebrate Pollution Prevention Week, Sept. 19-25, 2022

The 2022 P2 Week Poster, designed by Rowan Lambert, a senior mural artist at the University of New Orleans.

The third week of September every year is celebrated as Pollution Prevention (P2) Week in the U.S. Thus in 2022, we focus particularly on pollution prevention from September 19th to the 25th, although P2 can and should be a priority year-round.

As defined by the National Pollution Prevention Roundtable (NPPR, emphasis added), “Pollution is the contamination of air, soil, or water by the discharge of harmful substances. Pollution prevention is the reduction or elimination of pollution at the source (source reduction) instead of at the end-of-the-pipe or stack. Pollution prevention occurs when raw materials, water, energy and other resources are utilized more efficiently, when less harmful substances are substituted for hazardous ones, and when toxic substances are eliminated from the production process. By reducing the use and production of hazardous substances, and by operating more efficiently we protect human health, strengthen our economic well-being, and preserve the environment.”

Rather than being a burden on industry, NPPR points out that “Adopting pollution prevention practices and techniques often benefits industry by lowering a company’s operational and environmental compliance costs. By preventing the generation of waste, P2 can also reduce or eliminate long-term liabilities and clean-up costs. Furthermore, disposal costs are reduced when the volume of waste is decreased. This can also lead to a reduction in workplace exposures to hazardous materials which can affect workers’ health and hence, their productivity. If less waste is produced, there will also be a diminished need for on-site storage space. Furthermore, by preventing pollution there will be a greater likelihood that a company will be in compliance with local, state, and federal compliance statutes. Finally, as community pillars, businesses shoulder an important responsibility for protecting the environment and natural resources for their own good as well as that of society.”

And did you know that in 1990, Congress passed the Pollution Prevention Act (P2Act), which states “The Environmental Protection Agency must establish a source reduction program which collects and disseminates information, provides financial assistance to States, and implements the other activities….”

Helping businesses, organizations, institutions, and government agencies throughout Illinois and beyond to prevent pollution and use resources more efficiently to benefit our shared environment while also ensuring that companies and communities are more competitive and resilient is essentially the mission of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP). Our team is here to help your organization identify and implement ways to make your operations more sustainable and to prevent pollution. TAP is funded not only by the State of Illinois but also a variety of grants and fee-for-service projects for a variety of clients.

Currently, TAP has funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide free sustainability assessments to Illinois manufacturers in the following sectors:

These assessments can help facilities reduce business costs, energy and water consumption, wastewater generation, emissions, and hazardous material usage, which can result in increased profitability, productivity, and competitiveness as well as recycling or diversion of by-products.

So if you are an Illinois manufacturer with facilities or supporting industries in those sectors, click on the link associated with your sector above to learn more about the assessment opportunity, and how TAP can help you identify P2 opportunities today. You can also access an overview flyer at https://uofi.box.com/s/fu0hsmj6skm52vl290nu7kiuohp758xa or contact Irene Zlevor via email or by phone at 217-300-8617. Additionally, a recorded webinar, presented to Sustain Rockford, describes the assessment process in detail.

There are opportunities for everyone to learn more about and practice P2–not just manufacturers. To learn more, explore the links below.

Illinois Farm to Food Bank project garners media attention

Photo courtesy of Rendleman Orchards

The Farm to Food Bank project, a collaboration between Feeding Illinois, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP), and Illinois farmers, has been getting some media attention. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Recent coverage includes:

Read more about the project on the TAP website.

Veronica Fall, climate specialist

Veronica Fall is a climate specialist for ISTC, where she provides science-based communication to stakeholders and communities on issues related to climate and climate change. Fall works with other climate service entities that focus on topics like extreme weather and climate change and develops publications and tools explaining complex issues in plain language to help people understand that climate information is useful and necessary. She is also a climate specialist for the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant program (IISG) and the U of I Extension.

She recently answered a few questions about her work.

Tell me a little bit about your role at ISTC.
I am a climate specialist. I primarily work with the Illinois Coastal Management program, which focuses on communicating climate science and the coastal impacts it has along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

How does your work at ISTC impact Illinois and the world?
At ISTC, we’re really focused on addressing some of today’s biggest challenges and concerns about how climate change is influencing society. In my role, I’m focused on helping to build resilient Lake Michigan communities and the greater Chicago area, helping various communities and stakeholders get access to information that will allow them to reduce their vulnerabilities and help them better understand the next steps that can be taken to become resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Do you work more with citizens or local governments?
Between those two options, typically more with local governments, but also federal or state stakeholders within the region. For instance, through ISTC, I primarily work with the Illinois Coastal Management Program, which is part of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) so, we’ll partner with FEMA or the Army Corps of Engineers. I also work with regional organizations across the Great Lakes, so less with citizens and more with other stakeholders and experts.

What is your educational background?
I have a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Meteorology and also a professional science Master’s degree in climate change and society, which is based more on the interdisciplinary nature of climate science, not just on understanding the physics at play, but also learning about risk communication and climate literacy, but most of my educational background is in meteorology.

What is the best part of your job at ISTC?
The best part is definitely the people. There is a sense of teamwork that we are all working towards a bigger goal to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change and the on-the-ground work and hardships seen within the region.

Is there any scientific topic (outside of your field of research) that you think should have more scientific attention?
I think there’s a greater need to better translate and communicate science by not just speaking science jargon but being able to bring a better understanding to a wider audience. I think that’s a skill that a lot of us with a science background are working on – addressing some of those barriers to entry, like jargon and numbers which can seem very intimidating at first glance.

What work/project/outcome are you most proud of in your career?
During last summer’s IISG summer internship program, I worked with a student to help develop a few products addressing the needs surrounding variable lake levels in the Chicago area. Getting to work with a student and stepping up to that role was scary at first, but also extremely rewarding.

What are common misconceptions about your field?
I have two answers: one is more specific to my meteorology background, and people will ask, “So you want to be on TV?” because that’s what most people’s interaction is with their local meteorologist that they see on the nightly news. The second is a lot of people are still focused on the future impacts of climate change, and I try to phrase it as “The impacts we are seeing today and will continue to see in the future,” but I think a lot of people are still hesitant to say that the impacts are already happening right now. People are hesitant to realize how big a problem it is currently.

Yeah, the climate patterns are amazing, like how the ocean temperatures can change its circulation patterns which can in turn affect El Niño/La Niña climate patterns. People just don’t realize the bigger picture, but that’s also a hard concept to communicate the interconnectedness of it all.
It’s really interesting to observe how certain words enter the public sphere. I remember learning about the polar vortex and thinking that it was sort of a niche meteorology term, and now with some of the winters that we’ve had, people are already saying “oh there’s going to be another polar vortex winter,” so that’s a more common phrase these days, but it’s interesting to see how that sort of moves through the public space.

The polar vortex was thought to be such an extreme weather event, and now people have already learned to expect it.
Yeah, because that polar vortex is being destabilized because of climate change so rather than staying farther north that polar vortex is going to dip down a bit more frequently and we’ll have those really cold crazy blasts during the winter.

I think meteorologists have it tough because of how public-facing their science is. Not a lot of sciences are directly forecasting events and variables that can be measured on such a short timescale, so it’s unique in that way.
Right, like people’s understanding of probability. A 60% chance of rain is still a 40% chance that it won’t rain, but a lot of people round up that 60% chance to mean it is definitely going to rain. Numerical literacy is a skill that many people struggle with and in my role, I try to make those numbers approachable and understandable for non-technical audiences.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Moving more into climate change and its impacts space, I’ve had to learn a lot. While my educational background lends more towards the physics and dynamics behind climate change, I now focus more on understanding the impacts. I’ve had to learn from a lot of different fields such as – understanding how climate change will affect different ecosystems, public health, infrastructure, transportation, etc. I really like that this field lends itself to being a lifelong learner, but there are definitely things that I’ve had to try and pick up and get a better grasp of.

When you aren’t doing science, what else do you love to do?
 In my free time, I like to walk my dog, cook, exercise, read, pretty low-key stuff.

How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I always naturally leaned more toward math and science as my favorite subjects, but probably the first event that sparked my interest was that I really couldn’t pull myself away from the T.V. when Hurricane Katrina happened. Seeing all the devastation of the aftermath was really the first event that made me think that meteorology was a field that I’d like to pursue, so that was in middle school for me.

What advice would you give to people just starting out in your field?
It’s okay to not have everything figured out. Many people I’ve talked to have had very circuitous routes to get where they are. But if someone is interested in climate or climate science, it is really helpful to try and dabble in some of the social sciences to try and get an understanding of things like climate or science literacy, risk communication, and the importance of knowing your audience. I think supplementing any of the physical science with social science is key.

Kealie Vogel, senior sustainability specialist

Kealie Vogel is a member of ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program team, where she works to collaborate with businesses, manufacturing, and industrial entities, municipalities, colleges, and universities throughout Illinois to provide technical assistance to find and implement sustainable and energy-efficient opportunities. Before joining ISTC, Kealie worked as a policy advisor at the Illinois Commerce Commission, where she aided in the research, analysis, and development of issues and opinions relating to the energy, water, telecommunication, and transportation industries regulated by the Commission. Kealie earned her bachelor’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences and a Master’s degree in natural resources and environmental sciences with a concentration in environmental policy from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. 

She recently answered some questions about her work.

Tell me a little bit about your role at ISTC.
I’m a senior scientific specialist focusing on sustainability within the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP). Day to day, I work on a fairly broad variety of projects centered on energy efficiency, waste reduction, and renewable energy. These projects involve engaging with a wide range of stakeholders throughout the state, from local farmers to municipal water treatment operators to corporate environmental services managers. On any given day, I might be “out in the field” conducting an energy efficiency assessment for a publicly-owned water treatment plant or privately-owned manufacturing facility, interviewing farmers interested in donating excess produce to state food banks, or conducting research on best practices for renewable energy equipment recycling as it reaches the end of its usable life. I learn something new every single day!

What is your educational background/area(s) of expertise?
Prior to joining ISTC, I earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in natural resources and environmental sciences from our very own University of Illinois and worked as a policy advisor at the Illinois Commerce Commission. While in grad school, I had the awesome opportunity to serve on the University of Illinois Student Sustainability Committee, a student-funded campus organization that distributes over $1 million annually to support sustainability projects that involve students and help make the University of Illinois campus a great place to be.

How does your work at ISTC impact Illinois and the world?
All of our work focuses on empowering Illinois citizens, companies, and municipalities to curb emissions and waste while also conserving existing resources for the health of our towns, state, and world. When we conduct energy efficiency or waste reduction assessments, we provide specific recommendations to our client companies, public agencies, and municipalities that are aimed at helping them take concrete steps to operate more sustainably. Similarly, our work on other projects like renewable energy equipment recycling and the farm-to-foodbank donation process is aimed at identifying concrete, actionable steps that help make increased sustainability a reality throughout the state.

What is the best part of your job at ISTC?
Working to reduce global greenhouse gas pollution and fight climate change from the comfort of my couch!

What question do you get asked most frequently about your career or the subject you study?
“Don’t you have to be really outdoorsy to work in the environmental sciences?” is one that I’ve often been asked by friends and prospective students interested in the field. I’m personally not much of an outdoorsy person at all (I don’t like bugs and am terrified of snakes), often surprising those asking this question. There are so many career paths in the environmental sciences that are great for those of us who care about the environment without wanting to necessarily spend our time knee-deep in a bog or prairie. I personally chose to pursue a career path oriented on the human dimensions of environmental science and primarily work with people and companies day-to-day, but there are also a wide variety of career opportunities in environmental policy, environmental law, sustainability consulting, corporate social responsibility, and more.

How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I have a distinct childhood memory of playing in the backyard one summer evening while my dad listened to NPR and tinkered on projects in the garage. The host of the NPR program was discussing how global temperatures had increased by ~1°F over the past century and would likely continue to increase by a few degrees over the next century. I remember asking my dad what the concern was, since the temperatures in our hometown changed by more than that every day and that was nothing to be concerned about. He explained the difference between weather and climate, how averages work and why a small increase can be so concerning on a large scale, and really helped me understand the root of the issue in a kid-friendly way. That conversation stuck in the back of my head until I had the opportunity to take the A.P. environmental science class in high school which kick-started my interest in doing something to try to address the root causes of our warming planet – the rest is history!

When you aren’t doing science, what else do you love to do?
Thrifting! I really enjoy both fashion and frugality, so thrift store shopping is the perfect way for me to balance both of those interests while also embracing the circular economy and sustainability.

What advice would you give to people just starting out in your field?
I think the importance of becoming involved in opportunities and activities relevant to your areas of interest cannot be overstated. If the idea of becoming involved with a given opportunity makes you simultaneously a little nervous but also excited, go for it! Getting involved in undergraduate research, relevant campus registered student organizations (RSOs), and participating in summer internships from the beginning of my time at the University of Illinois helped me narrow down my specific interests (I realized how much I didn’t like actual field work!) and build up my resume in such a way that I felt quite prepared to pursue graduate school and enter the job market.

TAP seeks partner for USDA composting and food waste reduction pilot program grant

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) recently released a funding opportunity announcement for their Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) cooperative agreements. Applications are due by September 1, 2022.

This program provides financial assistance to municipalities, school districts, counties, local governments, or tribal governments (State-designated Indian Tribes, Federally Recognized Indian Tribal Governments) for composting and food waste reduction pilot programs. While applicants are encouraged to submit proposals that meet more than one of the objectives below (inclusion of multiple objectives will be considered when ranking proposals), OUAIP will accept proposals that address at least one of the following:

  • Generate compost
  • Increase access to compost for agricultural producers
  • Reduce reliance on, and limit the use of, fertilizer
  • Improve soil quality
  • Encourage waste management and permaculture business development
  • Increase rainwater absorption
  • Reduce municipal food waste; and
  • Divert residential and commercial food waste from landfills.

In addition to meeting one or more of the above purposes applicants are encouraged to align their project proposals to address priorities on environmental justice, racial equity, climate, investment in disadvantaged communities, and climate smart agricultural practices. Priority will be given for each of the following elements that are included in a project:

  • Anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits for the targeted community;
  • Incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to agricultural producers, including community gardeners, school gardens, and producers;
  • Integrate food waste reduction strategies, including innovative food recovery efforts such as, but not limited to, food gleaning, storage, and preservation techniques; and
  • Include a robust plan that describes collaboration with multiple partners.

Eligible entities should collaborate with two or more partner organizations on their CFWR pilot project. Non-eligible entities may be partners on a project.

ISTC seeks an eligible organization to be the lead applicant on a collaborative proposal. ISTC’s TAP staff will provide support on the cooperative agreement through zero waste technical assistance, education, and outreach. Contact TAP to learn more about this partnership opportunity.

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.