Student uses ESF’s Career Fellowship to Start a Food Waste Reduction Program

Student uses ESF’s Career Fellowship to Start a Food Waste Reduction Program

All right, my name is Grace Anderson. I just graduated with my undergraduate in Environmental Resources Engineering. I’m attending ESF again for my Master’s of Science. So, I’ve been interested in reducing food waste for a while. I’ve been involved with Food Recovery Network at ESF. It’s been on my radar as an issue to be aware of. And then I took a course with Doug Daley, a professor in our area department, called Solid Waste Engineering, and that’s sort of where I learned the massive environmental impact that rotting food waste has in our landfills. So I got really interested in what could I do? Just a small thing to help reduce that big problem happening globally right now. So I found a fellowship that was offered through ESF’s Career Services Department run by Casey Duffy, that was with OCRA, Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency, to conduct a feasibility study about how we could implement a composting program in Nottingham High School, sort of as a case study for any middle or high school in Onondaga County, so that they could send their food waste from cafeterias to OCRA’s industrial composting facilities. So it would benefit the schools because they could maybe save a little money, they could reduce their environmental impact, and it would benefit OCRA because they have greater use around the county of their composting facilities, and they already are pretty well used. A lot of companies, and even some existing schools already do compost with OCRA, but they’re trying to expand their programming even further. Yes, we called it a waste audit. So, the first step was for Jaime Rodriguez, who is the Natural Resources teacher at Nottingham High School, to teach her Natural Resources students about the issue and get them sort of on the same level: prepared to learn about compost and prepared to do the waste audit. And then, myself and a few OCRA people including Teresa Evans, who was really helpful on the project, went to Nottingham, and with the eleventh grade class of Miss Rodriguez’s Natural Resources class, of course, we did a trash sort. So we all put gloves and aprons on, and the kids grabbed scales and some of them had clipboards, and they weighed out the trash from their cafeteria after sorting it. And what they found out was that over half of their trash by weight was not trash. It was either food waste that could be composted, or it should have been in the recycling instead. So, that was pretty eye-opening. That was the impetus for the project itself, and the impetus for all my recommendations to the school about how they could become more sustainable, and what they could do with their food waste. Broker charge is a tipping fee, which is how much they charge per pound for you to drop off your wastes for them to take care of. And it’s less than half for food waste than it is for trash. It’s forty-two dollars per pound, versus like eighty-nine dollars per pound, I think. So, by weight is a good way to measure the waste, because that’s how we can really measure how much is going to a landfill, how much is being diverted to compost, and what is the cost savings potentially to compost it, instead of landfill it, for the food waste. So, it was something like forty something percent by weight was food waste. It was just really eye-opening, and the students were really shocked at how poorly they were all recycling! They all thought they were better than that! And they were like, wow, we should educate our classmates. We should really get on top this environmental issue. I guess there’s also the cost savings they looked at in my report of, what if they could do an audit or further audits on the food waste and buy less milk, or somehow do like a food share table, or somehow within federal regulations and everything, produce less food waste in the first place. And that’s just huge cost savings. So, you could save fifty cents a pound by composting your milk instead of throwing it out, but, you could save five dollars a pound by just not buying the milk in the first place. So that’s something that’s a little harder to quantify, but philosophically, that’s where the real cost savings and the real environmental impact reduction would happen. Is just planning a little better. Doing better audits to figure out what really is being used in our cafeteria. And what is just being thrown out.

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