Illinois State University: Solid Waste Characterization and Opportunity Assessment of the Bone Student Center

Photo of ISTC staff and ISU volunteers during the waste audit at Bone Student Center.
Photo of ISTC staff and ISU volunteers during the waste audit at Bone Student Center.

Project Title: Illinois State University: Solid Waste Characterization and Opportunity Assessment of the Bone Student Center

Sectors: Higher Education, Caterers, Food Service, Retail

Location: Normal, IL

Services: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Waste Characterization/Reduction/Management

Background: In June 2022, Illinois State University (ISU) completed the University’s first-ever Sustainability Strategic Plan. Among the many topics covered in the plan, “Materials Management and Waste Reduction” was a key focus. Soon after the release of the report, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) reached out to the ISU Director of Sustainability, Elisabeth Reed, to discuss opportunities for support and collaboration. After several discussions, it was decided that ISTC would conduct a waste characterization study (waste audit) to collect, sort, and weigh waste and recycling samples and identify opportunities for waste reduction and diversion. The Bone Student Center’s variety of uses and activities made it a good representation of the types of waste generated across the ISU campus.

Approach: Beginning in June 2023, ISTC began meeting with the ISU team to better understand the various areas and activities of Bone Student Center along with discussing the logistics of collecting and sorting waste and recycling samples. It was determined that ISTC, along with ISU volunteers, would collect waste and recycling samples from three “activity zones” of the Bone Student Center:

  1. Catering – This included one kitchen and one dishwashing room used by both catering staff and retail outlets.
  2. Retail – This encompassed food service locations as well as some indoor and outdoor seating locations used by customers.
  3. Concourse & Office – This encompassed general hallways, lounge and study spaces, event halls, one classroom, and office spaces.

The physical collection, sorting, and weighing of material took place on September 26-27th, 2023 in the Visitor parking lot of the Bone Student Center on the ISU campus. As per the ASTM D5231 standard for processing solid waste, we aim for 200-pound samples of both landfill-bound trash and single-stream recycling.

The TAP team also conducted a walkthrough of the Bone Student Center, taking pictures, observing current waste management practices, and conducting informal stakeholder engagement in each of the three activity zones.

The resulting report, presented to ISU staff in December 2023, describes and visualizes our findings from this data. An Opportunity Assessment included within that report details strategies and recommendations to reduce overall waste generation and divert additional materials from the landfill in each of the three activity zones, categorized as:

  • Education (e.g., Develop standardized educational signage for all single-stream recycling bins.)
  • Collection Container Improvement (e.g., Ensure trash and recycling bins are co-located to make recycling more convenient for building occupants.)
  • Programs & Procedures (e.g., Target single-use plastics or plastics not accepted in single-stream recycling bins.)

Results: Through this waste characterization study, the TAP team collected data that will inform ISU’s commitment to their Sustainable Strategic Directions of Food and Events as well as Materials Management and Waste Reduction.

“The waste characterization study conducted by the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center provided valuable data that will guide us towards more sustainable practices within our student center and throughout our campus. The knowledge and expertise of the ISTC team elevated our understanding of various waste streams and provided realistic solutions towards diversion and waste reduction.”    — Elisabeth Reed, ISU Director of Sustainability

Other projects with this client: None at this time.

Building a Culture of Composting in Greater Chicagoland–Food Waste Technical Assistance for Small Food Businesses

Image of a compost bin, full of food scraps, surrounded by green grass.
“Composting” by Trish walker is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0. To view the terms, visit

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 also hosted 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 recruited 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 prioritized 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 filled out a short application to verify eligibility and clarify required participant time commitments. TAP worked with the five selected participants from March-August 2023.

TAP had initial conversations with each participating business to review operations and provide overview information on strategies and reasons for reducing food waste. Next, TAP staff provided on-site facility assessments of current conditions, infrastructure, and processes. This was followed by a food waste audit for each participating facility, resulting in an initial recommendation report and associated resources. TAP reviewed recommendations with the participant facilities and worked with them to plan implementation. Participants were 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 convened the five participating organizations at a feedback session, so they could share challenges, barriers, and lessons learned. Participants’ efforts were summarized in a case study at the end of the project (see the Results section below).

Ultimately, the goal was 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: Descriptions of the five participating businesses, results of their food waste audits, a summary of recommendations made, project outcomes, and challenges faced by participants are outlined in the project case study below.

Food Waste Technical Assistance for Small Businesses (2023)

Other projects with this client (Illinois Extension): None at this time