Project Title: Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland–Food Waste Technical Assistance for Small Food Businesses
Sectors: Small Businesses, Grocery Stores, Caterers, Restaurants/Bars, Food Service, Retail, Hunger Relief Agencies
Location: Greater Chicagoland, Illinois
Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization
Background: In fall of 2022, University of Illinois Extension received funding from the Extension Foundation USDA-NIFA New Technologies in Ag Extension (NTAE) program for the expansion of its “Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland” project. This project aims to divert food scraps and organic waste from landfills through educational efforts on the benefits of composting. Prior to receipt of this grant, Illinois Extension partnered with community organizations on Chicago’s southside, works with Chicago Public Schools, and promotes composting through “Pumpkin Smash” and other events in Cook County. Grant funds have allowed for the expansion of efforts to Lake and McHenry counties, and collar counties. Illinois Extension will also host a regional compost summit in May 2023. The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center Technical Assistance Program (TAP) was engaged as a collaborator on the project, to provide food waste technical assistance for small businesses.
Approach: TAP is recruiting five small food businesses (e.g. restaurants, independent grocery stores, caterers, bakeries, etc.) to receive assistance free of charge (expenses are covered by the NTAE grant). TAP is prioritizing partnerships in communities overburdened by environmental issues and lacking resources, defined as disadvantaged communities by the Climate & Economic Justice Screen Tool. Taking action to reduce wasted food may help businesses save money, reduce their environmental footprint, feed their community, as well demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. Interested businesses fill out a short application to verify eligibility and clarify required participant time commitments. TAP will work with the five selected participants from March-August 2023.
TAP will have initial conversations with each participating business to review operations and provide overview information on strategies and reasons for reducing food waste. Next, TAP staff will provide on-site facility assessments of current conditions, infrastructure, and processes. This will be followed by a food waste audit for each participating facility, resulting in an initial recommendation report and associated resources. TAP will review recommendations with the participant facilities and work with them to plan implementation. Participants may be eligible for funding through the project to pilot a commercial compost hauling service for up to 5 months. Finally, after and/or during the implementation of recommendations, TAP will convene the five participating organizations at a feedback session, so they can share challenges, barriers, and lessons learned. Participants’ efforts will be summarized in case studies at the end of the project (to be shared below in the Results section).
Ultimately, the goal is to lead interested businesses through the process of assessing current operations and waste generation to identify opportunities for food waste prevention and reduction. Subsequent implementation assistance will hopefully lead to overall waste reduction and increased composting at participating facilities.
Results: Coming soon.
Other projects with this client (Illinois Extension): None at this time