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Key Objective: 5.5 Plan for Organic Waste
The iCAP 2020, objective 5.5 is: “Develop a detailed comprehensive plan including implementation and operational costs/ benefits to sustainably dispose of all food scraps and other organics by FY24, and fully implement the plan by FY33.” The responsible campus unit for championing this objective is F&S. Progress is tracked in the iCAP Portal project page for Plan for Organic Waste.
The existence of excess food on plates, at events, or in dining halls is inevitable — there will always be leftovers, scraps, and uneaten meals that cannot be redistributed. Our goal with Objective #5.5 is to ensure that none of this waste reaches the landfill.
In the “reduce, reuse, and recycle” frame of mind, we want to exercise every available opportunity to productively, sustainably, and completely dispose of campus food waste. Below are several methods for reusing and recycling food waste that we plan to explore and implement.
We don’t just want to sustainably dispose of food scraps — we want to put them to work. In conjunction with other iCAP objectives supporting individual and departmental composting efforts, our goal is for composting to become an integral component of campus and community waste operations.
In 2010, a feasibility study evaluated the viability of large-scale composting on campus. We intend to conduct an up-to-date cost-benefit analysis in the coming years; in addition to financial and logistical considerations, this analysis will examine how local farmers can benefit from buying university compost and identify any legal limitations governing these interactions. Following this analysis, we will proceed with the most reasonable plan. Options for composting are diverse and may include: increasing the number of small-scale composting solutions on campus (e.g., the NSRC composting tumbler as referenced in the Land & Water chapter); increasing community engagement with composting; and investigating opportunities to establish commercial composting facilities for campus and surrounding communities.
By capturing and composting food waste, we will not only divert these materials from our waste stream, but also produce a valuable, nutrient-rich product that benefits our soil. Composting is a particularly apt example of our integrated approach to iCAP 2020. Moving forward, it is important to consider the many ways in which our themes interact with, affect, and enrich one another.
Resource recovery/anaerobic digester
Composting is not the only way to divert food scraps from the landfill. University Housing Dining currently operates three anaerobic digesters (Enviropure) and three food waste collection systems (Grind2Energy) for use with the anaerobic digester at the Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District (UCSD). We have diverted approximately 95% of our pre- and post-consumer food waste at university dining halls for the last three years and plan to replace the three remaining aerobic digesters as funding allows.
We are exploring additional technologies capable of recovering resources from university-generated food scraps. A potential opportunity to add an anaerobic digester may be at the future Dairy Facility. The Veterinary Teaching Hospital has straw bedding waste that could be used, and we look forward to optimizing these efforts in collaboration with other campus units. We plan to expand collaboration with community partners in these efforts with the UCSD, for example.
Food waste recycling
While the average student might not associate food waste with traditional recycling, there are many options to repurpose common ingredients for alternative functions. For example, we are exploring a way to recycle all used cooking oil for a beneficial use such as biodiesel: a high-quality, high-functioning fuel derived entirely from renewable resources. Researchers received Campus as a Living Lab seed funding and Student Sustainability Committee funds to study the potential to convert biowaste into bioenergy and reduce pollution. Research focuses on testing processing systems to deliver renewable energy, clean water, and organic fertilizers for agriculture.