Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study & Pilot Projects

Cover page of the farm to food bank feasibility study report

Project Title: Illinois Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study & Pilot Projects 

Sectors: Non-profits, Hunger Relief Agencies, Agriculture 

Location: Illinois, Statewide 

Services: Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance, Resilient Solutions, Stakeholder Engagement, Supply Chain Sustainability, Sustainability Planning, Waste Management 

Background: In early 2020, staff from Feeding Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) began discussions related to expansion of programs and opportunities for moving surplus food commodities to hunger relief agencies throughout the state. These agencies reached out to the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to discuss the types of data and analyses needed to support such efforts. Plans began for a feasibility study, involving collaboration with the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, (ISGA) to expand and improve farm to food bank commodity flows. After receiving funding from the USDA, Feeding Illinois engaged TAP to conduct the feasibility study in collaboration with various project partners (See the “Acknowledgements” section of the feasibility report). 

Approach: In order to better understand how Feeding Illinois food banks operate, TAP visited all eight member foods banks to tour the facilities and conduct informal interviews on the topic of fresh foods. TAP also virtually met with organizations managing Farm to Food Bank-style programs around the country to learn about their programmatic approaches, farmer compensation models, daily challenges, and recommended best practices. In total, TAP interviewed organizations from 14 states: Arizona, California, Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Overarching themes and key lessons from these various interviews were compiled. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

Beginning in January of 2021, TAP administered a voluntary survey of Illinois farmers to better understand current farming practices, available market channels, and barriers to working with food banks. Data used from this survey was intended to develop strategies to expand commodity markets available to farmers and increase the supply of fresh food at food banks and food pantries. (See “Farm to Food Bank Survey Results” in the “Results” section below.) 

Additionally, TAP administered five farmer focus groups to gather more in-depth feedback and opinions on options for off-grade and surplus produce as well as facets of a Farm to Food Bank program. TAP hosted two in-person focus groups at the Illinois Specialty Growers Conference in Springfield, IL on January 5-7th, 2022, and three virtual focus groups hosted on Zoom. Two of the virtual focus groups took place January 12th and one on February 1st, 2022. Focus groups were each one hour long and consisted of four to six participants, with a total of 25 farmers participating. TAP worked with IFB to ensure participants included individuals from across the state as well as minority, women, and urban farmers. Participants also represented a wide range of ages. Farmers invited to participate were those that indicated interest on the ISTC administered survey and suggestions from the IFB and the ISGA. To be eligible, participants had to be 18 years of age and operated a farm or garden within Illinois. No compensation was provided for participating in the focus groups. A consent form was signed by each participant and strategies to ensure confidentiality and anonymity were read aloud at the start of each session. The described protocols were evaluated as exempt for review by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Institutional Review Board (Protocol #22325). Focus group format consisted of an introduction to the research project, an ice breaker, and eight key questions with follow-ups and prompts. The same eight questions were asked during all five focus group sessions. Feedback was analyzed and compiled in the feasibility study report prepared by the ISTC TAP for Feeding Illinois. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

A preliminary pilot project was also included in the original feasibility study. Feeding Illinois partnered with Rendleman Orchards during the 2021 growing season to ensure no fruit went to waste. Through the USDA’s Farm to Food Bank grant, Feeding Illinois was able to pay Rendleman Orchards its picking and pack-out costs (PPO) which represent the farm’s costs to harvest and package the product and enabled the donation of the peaches, nectarines, and apples. The fruit was either off-spec, meaning it did not qualify to be sold in typical primary markets due to size/weight/blemishes, or surplus, meaning that the farmer did not have a buyer or market outlet for the fruit. Rather than the fruit going to waste, Feeding Illinois helped Rendleman Orchards recoup their costs and provide fresh local nutritious fruit to Illinois neighbors in need. After completion of the growing season, TAP and Feeding Illinois worked with Rendleman Orchards, Tri- State Food Bank, and St. Louis Area Foodbank to gain feedback and evaluate the pilot project. All parties were very happy with the result of the project and would like to increase participation in 2022. (See “Farm to Food Bank Pilot: Rendleman Orchards” in the “Results” section below.) 

Through these interviews, surveys, focus groups, and pilot projects it became clear that a such a program would be welcomed by both the farming and food banking communities. In April 2022, a report prepared by the ISTC TAP for Feeding Illinois was published summarizing 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. (See “Exploring the Development of an Illinois Farm to Food Bank Program” in the “Results” section below.) 

In the remainder of 2022, extending into 2023, TAP will work with Feeding Illinois and other project partners to continue pilot project efforts with Rendleman Orchards. Additional pilot projects with other growers and farmers markets will be conducted to test various fresh food aggregation strategies. The project team will also continue outreach and engagement efforts with farmers to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. 

Results: This project is ongoing. Below are links to publications, websites, and relevant results to date. 

 Other projects with this client (Feeding Illinois): None currently, as this project is ongoing. 

Forest Preserve District of Cook County Clean Energy Framework

cover of FPDCC Clean Energy Framework document

Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Clean Energy Framework

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location:
Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services:
Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance

Background: ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves) have a history of working together to improve sustainability. In 2014, the Forest Preserves, a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged TAP to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan, which was released in September 2018. That plan hinged upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identified a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revised the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on updating their Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly, while simultaneously assisting with the implementation of previously identified objectives and strategies to achieve their ambitious GHG reduction goals.

Approach: Beginning in 2020, TAP worked with various stakeholders, both internal to the Forest Preserves and external, to assist in the development of a Clean Energy Framework for the Preserves.

With regard to external stakeholders, TAP reviewed the efforts of other local government entities with renewable energy goals. To orient the Forest Preserve’s efforts with existing and emerging national trends, TAP analyzed the renewable energy goals, policies and progress in municipalities and counties across the country. In particular, TAP focused on communities included on the Ready for 100 list compiled by the Sierra Club, comprised of over 160 cities, counties, and states across the U.S. that have goals to power their communities with 100% clean, renewable energy. Those cities and counties with a target year of 2025-2036 for their renewable energy goals were exclusively targeted as the experiences of these entities might be expected to be analogous to that of the Forest Preserves as they work to attain their goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030. A brief online survey was developed, and an email was sent to the identified contacts at peer communities with a link to the survey, asking them to provide answers as a means of helping ISTC to learn about their successes, challenges, approaches to implementation, and any other relevant information which they would like to share. Emerging themes from responses were compiled, summarized, and used in the development of the Clean Energy Framework.

The Framework itself is modeled after the Cook County Clean Energy Plan. The Forest Preserves of Cook County Clean Energy Framework documents existing conditions through a needs assessment and review of current initiatives. Further, it prioritizes renewable energy technologies and strategies which the Forest Preserves might employ and creates a roadmap to achieving the Forest Preserves’ 2030 and 2050 goals. A Net Zero Emissions implementation schedule is presented, and the relationships between the Clean Energy Framework objectives and the objectives of the broader Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan are outlined.

Within the Framework it is noted that to actualize the goals and strategies outlined, energy conservation and efficiency of the many existing facilities must be prioritized and continuously pursued to reduce the existing operational footprint of the Forest Preserves. On a parallel course, the concept of green building must be thoroughly explored, redefined, and codified to embody building operations, ecosystem services, and renewable energy generation, fully encompassing the Preserves’ values of environmental stewardship and fostering human well-being in any building upgrade or new building project. Simultaneously, the Forest Preserves must aggressively pursue vetting, selecting and ongoing implementation of on-site renewable energy systems, coupled with collaborative pursuit, in partnership with Cook County, of a large-scale renewable energy installation, and sourcing of Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to account for any emissions balances.

Principal authors of the Framework include Anthony D. Tindall, Policy & Sustainability Manager of the Forest Preserves of Cook County, along with April Janssen Mahajan, Joy Scrogum, Savannah Feher, and Shantanu Pai of TAP. Jennifer Martin of TAP was also among the advisors for the report.

Results: The Clean Energy Framework was finalized in May 2021 and adopted by the Forest Preserves’ Board of Commissioners in June 2021.

Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/forest-preserve-district-of-cook-county/

Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan

FPDCC sustainability and climate resiliency plan cover

Project Title: Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sustainability & Climate Resiliency Plan 

Sector: Parks and Recreation
Location: Forest Preserves of Cook County, Illinois
Services: Resilient Solutions (Climate Resiliency), Sustainability Planning, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Implementation Assistance

Background: In 2014 the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (Forest Preserves), a public agency responsible for protecting and preserving nearly 70,000 acres of natural areas and public open space, engaged ISTC’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to evaluate the current state of materials management operations, assess opportunities for improvement, and take steps toward making the Forest Preserves a national leader, among similar organizations, in waste reduction practices. The success of that project led the Forest Preserves to engage TAP to assist in developing and implementing their Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan. 

Approach: The process of developing this Plan, nine months in the making, included an internal and external review of past sustainability efforts, focus groups and engagement sessions across the operations within the Forest Preserves and Cook County government, and numerous topic-specific meetings. Priorities outlined in the plan, and their underlining strategies, reflect the Forest Preserves’ direction for a sustainable future.  

This Plan is based on the vision, described in the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, of being a leader in sustainable practices. As an important part of their founding mission to protect and preserve our public lands and waters, the Forest Preserves of Cook County commit to using sustainable and low-impact practices in operations and challenge ourselves to consistently perform all our functions in the most environmentally responsible ways. 

Results: Published in September 2018, the plan hinges upon an overall goal to reduce the Forest Preserves’ greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 from a 2016 baseline. It also identifies a road map for Forest Preserve lands to be resilient in a changing climate, recognizing that such conditions will significantly impact land management operations as the range and distribution of species shift, along with the availability of water and other key aspects of the local ecosystem.

The plan is divided into five priority areas: 

Utilities & Emissions 

  • Focus areas include GHG emissions measuring, reporting and reductions; green infrastructure integration; and water use tracking and efficiency 
  • Major objectives include reducing energy consumption by 4.5 percent annually and developing green building and site standards for future projects 

Preserve Operations 

  • Focus areas include transportation and waste and recycling 
  • Major objectives include reducing fuel usage by 4.5 percent annually and expanding the recycling program to all Forest Preserve facilities 

Learning & Engagement 

  • Focus areas include awareness and visibility, community engagement, and employee engagement 
  • Major objectives include promoting green practices with permit holders and enhancing Earth Day sustainability programming 

Ecological Sustainability 

  • Focus areas include natural resources management and practices 
  • Major objectives include establishing Mitigating Impacts to Nature Policy as well as a Native Seed Policy outreach plan 

Implementation & Advancement 

  • Focus areas include green purchasing 
  • Major objectives include establishing a Green Purchasing Policy, establishing and promoting a plastic reduction campaign, and increasing energy rebates and incentives with utilities 

The full 2018 plan with complete objectives and targets, is available at http://hdl.handle.net/2142/101837.  

On January 22, 2019, in response to a United Nations International Panel on Climate Change report, which demonstrated that the consequences of man-made climate change will become irreversible in 12 years if global carbon emissions are not immediately and dramatically reduced, the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted a Net Zero Resolution. This resolution revises the 80% GHG emissions reduction goal to net-zero by 2050, as well as reducing facility GHG emissions by 45% by 2030 and committing to the development of a renewable energy plan. 

TAP is currently working with the Forest Preserves on plan implementation. This in part includes identifying the most advantageous renewable energy strategies, guiding evaluation of equipment in nearly 300 facilities for energy efficiency upgrades, developing a means to track emissions reduction efforts and progress, and updating the Sustainability and Climate Resiliency Plan accordingly. 

To help accomplish their GHG reduction goals, TAP worked with the Forest Preserves to develop a Clean Energy Framework, which was adopted by the Forest Preserves of Cook County Board of Commissioners in June 2021.   

 Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/forest-preserve-district-of-cook-county/ 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Nitrile Glove Recycling

Images of the two custom glove bin options presented to University Housing
Two glove recycling bin options presented to University Housing.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Nitrile Glove Recycling

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: The Technical Assistance Program (TAP) conducted a waste audit of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) headquarters building on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus in February 2013. The results of the waste audit revealed that single-use non-hazardous gloves were 13% of the ISTC waste stream at the time. The Zero Waste Illinois team explored multiple options to reduce and recycle the single-use non-hazardous gloves. Kimberly Clark, a company that manufactures nitrile gloves, takes their gloves back to recycle into park benches, bike racks, etc. through their RightCycle program. ISTC piloted the use of the RightCycle program throughout its labs.

The subsequent UIUC campus waste characterization studies revealed single-use non-hazardous gloves were significant components of the waste stream at other campus locations. Thus, the expansion of the nitrile glove recycling program to other campus locations was explored.

Approach: After successfully integrating the glove recycling project within ISTC labs, the Zero Waste Illinois team explored expanding this program for University Housing at its dining operations, with funding from the UI Student Sustainability Committee. The dining hall at Ikenberry Commons was selected as the pilot facility for the glove recycling program within University Housing. After several meetings with various stakeholders in University Housing Dining Services, collection was deemed to be the critical step in the process. It was determined that installing a collection bin to hang off existing trash bins would be a simple, inexpensive way to encourage proper separation of the used nitrile glove for recycling. Since no appropriate commercial collection unit was available, two custom-designed options were presented to the dining hall. Created using Inventor, a 3D design program, one option was a 3D-printed plastic piece designed to latch onto the side of existing Brute trash containers while securely cradling a small recycling container for the gloves. The other option involved screwing two hooks through the side of a small recycling bin and then using the hooks to hang the recycling bin from a trash container. Although the plastic piece was more creative and designed by a University of Illinois student, in a University of Illinois lab, it was more expensive to roll out. Therefore, the hook design was implemented across all dining operations.

Results: In 2020 dining diverted over 7,000 lbs. of gloves through this program. Based on this pilot project, the University explored expansion of the glove recycling program at other campus locations. See https://icap.sustainability.illinois.edu/project/glove-recycling for status updates.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Indoor Solid Waste & Recycling Collection Assessment & Infrastructure Improvement

New collection bin station with sections for landfill, mixed paper, and aluminum cans plus bottles
New collection containers being deployed on UI campus.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Indoor Solid Waste & Recycling Collection Assessment & Infrastructure Improvement

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Service: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: In 2008, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UI) signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, becoming part of a network of institutions of higher education committed to campus carbon neutrality by the year 2050. UI developed an Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) as a roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. The iCAP identifies relevant goals, objectives, and potential strategies in the following categories: energy conservation and building standards; energy generation, purchasing, and distribution; transportation; water and stormwater; purchasing, waste, and recycling; agriculture, land use, food, and sequestration; carbon offsets; financing; education; outreach; and research.

Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate the achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for more information.

In 2019, ISTC and WTS staff began an analysis of collection practices within buildings with the explicit intent to increase the capture of source-separated recyclables.

Approach: TAP staff shadowed building service staff to identify current practices and opportunities for improvement. The processes for handling waste and recyclables for typical academic and residential buildings were mapped out, including movement of waste materials from the building to dumpsters, and ultimately to the WTS. TAP staff also worked with F&S to document (in terms of current deployment and unused inventory) the number and variety of landfill and recyclable collection bins found in buildings across campus.

Examples of the variety in size, color and signage of older collection bins on campus.
Examples of previous generations of bins and associated signage found on campus.

This information allowed TAP to make various recommendations to UI F&S related to:

  • building construction and renovation standards for recycling space allocation;
  • collection container allocation, placement, and related training for Building Service Workers (BSW);
  • updating collection containers to improve clarity and consistency across campus;
  • improved signage for clarity and consistent messaging;
  • use of bin liners and existing dumpsters to streamline material flows to, and separation at, the WTS; and
  • a campus-wide recycling campaign.

Results: TAP is currently working with F&S on implementation of these recommendations. At the end of 2019, new collection containers were identified which would collocate landfill (trash) bins and bins for the two types of recycling streams on campus—mixed paper and aluminum cans plus bottles. The new collection containers use color-coding to distinguish the different streams—black for landfill, green for the mixed paper stream, and blue for the combined aluminum cans and bottles. Matching directional signage featuring pictures of example materials appropriate for each waste stream attaches to the back of the bins to assist with proper source separation. A URL for more information on campus recycling is also prominent on the bin signs. Images on the container access doors (for emptying the bins) reinforce proper placement of materials. The containers are themselves constructed from at least 1000 recycled plastic milk jugs, reinforcing the importance of not only recycling but “closing the loop” by using products made from recycled materials.

105 containers have been deployed over 30 buildings, beginning primarily in first-floor hallways. Additional containers are being obtained and deployed to locations keeping factors such as building occupancy and status of currently existing collection infrastructure in mind. F&S sees the deployment of the new containers as a key factor in raising awareness of recycling opportunities and processes on campus, as well as combating persistent misconceptions about campus recycling practices.

The new collection containers and implementation of other recommendations made by ISTC’s TAP not only foster achievement of campus iCAP goals but also relate to the recently released F&S Strategic Plan 2019-2023, which includes key performance indicators for diverting waste from landfill in its “Lead in Energy Management and Sustainability” section.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Transfer Station Data Management and Tracking System

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Waste Transfer Station Data Management and Tracking System

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL
Services: Implementation Assistance, Process Optimization, Resilient Solutions, Waste Characterization/Reduction/Management

Background: Members of the ISTC Technical Assistance Program (TAP) zero waste team were engaged by the University of Illinois Facilities and Services (F&S) to better understand and optimize operations at the waste transfer station located on campus.

Approach: In 2018, TAP worked with F&S staff to digitize collection truck weight tickets and create a new online tracking portal, in collaboration with the University of Illinois Administrative Information Technology Services (AITS), for use by the campus Waste Transfer Station (WTS). The portal, rolled out in December 2018, allows WTS staff to measure, analyze, and report on the material moving through the system. This level of detail can allow targeted modifications to hauling routes, pickup frequency, and collection container deployment to improve capture of specific waste streams, as well as provide data to inform potential outreach efforts and policy changes.

TAP also worked with Loadman Systems to pilot real-time truck scale collection systems, with the ultimate goal of truck route optimization.

Results: As of summer 2021, the project has led to reducing a whole garbage truck from the fleet and increasing operational efficiency by over 40%.

Other projects with this client: https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

Green Lunchroom Challenge

Green Lunchroom Challenge logo

Project Title: Green Lunchroom Challenge

Sectors: K-12 schools (primary original sector targeted), Higher Education, Institutions (any with on-site food service)
Location: Illinois (primary focus); United States (Beyond IL)
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior, Stakeholder Engagement, Waste Characterization

Background: According to a 2012 report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, food production represented 10 percent of the total US energy budget, uses 50 percent of US land, and accounted for 80 percent of the freshwater consumed in the US — yet, 40 percent of food in the US went uneaten. According to Feeding America, in 2013, 49.1 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 33.3 million adults and 15.8 million children.* Food waste is clearly both a tremendous problem and an opportunity for improving the sustainability of our society. Reducing food waste in schools not only helps to ensure those precious expended resources are providing nutrition as intended, but also provides the opportunity to set important examples of conservation and systems thinking among our impressionable youth, which will hopefully stay with them as they become our next generation of leaders.

Funded by US EPA Region 5, this project focused on food waste prevention and reduction at K-12 schools.

*See the second edition (2017) of the NRDC “Wasted” report at https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/wasted-2017-report.pdf for more recent statistics. See https://hungerandhealth.feedingamerica.org/understand-food-insecurity/ for more recent statistics related to US food insecurity.

Approach: Launched in 2015, the Green Lunchroom Challenge (GLC) was a voluntary pledge program for schools to improve the sustainability of their foodservice operations. By registering, participants were accepting the challenge to reduce and prevent food waste in their facilities. The GLC website provided suggested activities that ranged in complexity and commitment, to allow participants to best suit their situation, budget, and available community resources. Participants were not required to complete activities, but with each activity that was completed successfully, they earned points toward recognition at different “levels of accomplishment” (Bronze: 250-500 points; Silver: 501-1000 points; Gold: 1001-1900 points; Platinum: 1901 or more points).

In addition to typical activities related to food preparation, presentation, and waste disposal, schools could also choose to integrate food waste prevention and reduction into curricula, helping students learn about food security and hunger, composting, the circular economy, and stewardship. Links to archived suggested activities are available at https://green-lunchroom.istc.illinois.edu/k-12-schools/suggested-activites/. Participants that achieved different levels of accomplishment are highlighted on the GLC website and received certificates for on-site display. TAP staff members also provided comments and recommendations for further improvement to participants based on activity documentation submitted.

GLC brochure
Brochure used to market the project.

A kickoff workshop/training session was held at ISTC headquarters in Champaign, IL on September 17, 2015. This session provided an overview of the GLC, presentations on relevant tools and programs, and a group discussion of barriers and opportunities related to food waste prevention and reduction in K-12 schools. A free school food service training session was also presented by Greg Christian, Founder and CEO of Beyond Green Partners, a food service and consulting company focused on the nutritional and environmental impacts of school food. The presentations and training were videotaped to enable schools unable to attend, or which learned of the GLC after the kickoff, to benefit from the information shared. Presenters in addition to Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners included: Joy Scrogum, ISTC; Susan Vescovi, US EPA Region 5; Kelly Boeger, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Housing Dining Services, and Raj Karmani, Zero Percent. Throughout the project period (for the US EPA grant), TAP hosted webinars for participants on subjects such as food donation for schools, USDA’s “Smarter Lunchrooms” concepts and food waste reduction, commercial composting services available to schools, school gardening and on-site composting, and case studies of outreach on food waste prevention and reduction with schools.

Additionally, TAP partnered with the Springfield [IL] Public Schools (SPS) to assess the opportunities for food waste reduction and diversion. This hands-on assessment provided insight into the barriers and opportunities in implementing the activities included in the Green Lunchroom Challenge.

Results: By the time the project funding ceased, 27 IL schools, three IL school districts, and two “other” organizations (an elementary school in New Jersey and the DeKalb County [IL] Health Department) had signed up to participate in the GLC voluntary pledge program (see the archived participant list). Although funding for the project ended in December 2016, TAP continues to share resources via the GLC website blog to assist any institution or organization with on-site foodservice operations with food waste prevention, reduction, and diversion.

Other projects with this client (US EPA):

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/us-environmental-protection-agency-epa/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Quad Recycling Containers

 

Cylindrical concrete bins for outdoor waste collection
Retrofitted waste receptacles for collection of trash (labeled “Landfill”) and recycling.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Quad Recycling Containers

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Services: Implementation Assistance, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: The Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) is the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s roadmap to reducing the campus carbon footprint and achieving carbon neutrality. Since the development of the iCAP, the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) Technical Assistance Program (TAP) has worked with UI Facilities and Services (F&S) on multiple projects to facilitate achievement of a 45% campus waste diversion target by 2020, as part of the overarching campus carbon neutrality efforts. See “Other projects with this client” below for further details.

As part of continuous improvement efforts, in the fall of 2014 and spring of 2015 TAP worked with F&S to improve the collection of recyclables on and around the main campus quadrangle, known as “the Quad.”

Approach: Prior to the implementation of this project, separate outdoor recycling bins were not available on the Quad.  Rather, receptacle lids indicated trash and recycling should be commingled; materials collected from those commingled bins were subsequently lightly sorted at the University Waste Transfer Station (WTS) for visible aluminum beverage cans and plastic beverage bottles #1 and #2. All other materials collected were sent to the landfill. Off-campus, in the surrounding communities, a wider range of plastics are collected by haulers, so many people coming to campus had a perception that those same materials would be recyclable on campus. This situation, coupled with a lack of dedicated recycling containers on the Quad, led to a high degree of contamination and the resulting loss of recyclable materials to the landfill-bound stream. It also perpetuated long-standing misconceptions among members of the campus community that materials from ANY waste bin on campus were subsequently sorted at the WTS–leading many people to think that placing recyclables in a waste (landfill-bound) container was acceptable, even in areas/buildings where separate collection bins for recyclables were provided. Many people believed that such behavior was “ok,” because recyclables would be captured at the WTS. The reality was that additional hand-sorting at the WTS only occurred for waste collected from certain facilities and spaces, not ALL spaces on campus, and that not all materials deemed “recyclable” in surrounding communities were collected for recycling on campus. Clearly, changes were necessary to the collection infrastructure on the Quad, as a high-traffic area, to begin to break down misconceptions and improper behaviors on campus.

Outdoor concrete waste bin with lid labeled for both trash and recyclables
Previously used standalone bins did not include clear behavior cues.

The plan to improve collection efficacy and messaging was to introduce 20 new recycling bins to be paired with existing bins on the Quad, turning 40 stand-alone containers into 30 waste/recycling stations. To achieve this in a cost-effective manner, it was decided to retrofit the existing outdoor, cylindrical concrete waste receptacles from the Quad so that some would be clearly labeled and color-coded for recycling and others for landfill-bound trash.  In addition to the expanded bin options, signage would be placed in the buildings surrounding the Quad to launch the new recycling procedures and clarify what materials could be recycled. To measure the impact of this project, waste audits of materials placed in trash containers were conducted before and after the proposed changes, October 2014 and April 2015, respectively.

ISTC worked with F&S to coordinate the sample collection for the waste characterizations. Each trash bin (labeled “Landfill” after receptacle retrofitting) was emptied and was lined with a trash bag for ease of collection. Samples were collected early in the morning to accommodate the regular schedule of the waste collection staff and the bins were relined with a trash bag for the next sample. For the post-implementation audits, the samples were collected from both the designated “landfill” and “recycling” bins. Waste sorting was conducted at ISTC. All samples were sorted into three categories:

  • Bottles & Cans: Included #1 & #2 plastic bottles and aluminum beverage cans
  • Recycled in the Community: Included materials recycled by the City of Urbana’s U-Cycle Program
  • Landfill: Materials that were neither recycled on campus or by the U-Cycle Program

Results: Waste audits revealed the presence of retrofitted separate bin waste/recycling stations resulted in significantly less recyclable material being sent to the landfill, although there was still significant contamination of the designated recycling bins with trash or materials not recyclable on campus. More than 50% of the material in designated recycling bins in the April 2015 audit was trash, approximately 25% was “Bottles & Cans” recyclable on campus, and approximately 22% was material recyclable in the broader community but not on campus. At the time of the post-implementation audit, the bins had only been out on the Quad for about a week. TAP recommended increased education and outreach to help reduce contamination of the recycling stream, as well as improvements in collection routes to reduce trash overflow being placed in designated recycling bins. TAP further recommended that only the recycling stream be sent to the WTS for a secondary sort to reduce the amount of material needing to be sorted and to improve the capture rate for “bottles & cans.” Finally, TAP recommended that the University increase the number of commodities collected for recycling on campus to decrease confusion. 

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Zero Waste Football Game

A volunteer stationed by bins to help game attendees sort waste properly.

Project Title: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Zero Waste Football Game

Sector: Higher Education
Location: Champaign-Urbana, IL 
Services: Implementation Assistance, Stakeholder Engagement, Fostering Sustainable Behavior

Background: In Fall 2014, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign participated in the Gameday Recycling Challenge for the first time. The Gameday Recycling Challenge is a friendly competition for colleges and universities to promote waste reduction at their home football games. The Challenge occurred on October 25th for the homecoming football game against the University of Minnesota. During the game, efforts were implemented to reduce waste by composting and recycling. At the end of the game, all the waste streams were sorted and weighed, and the results were tabulated. Result categories included waste minimization, diversion rate, greenhouse gas reduction, recycling, and organics reduction. Each participating game’s data is used to rank and determine the Challenge winners. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials. The University will use this year’s diversion rate as a baseline to improve efforts going forward in upcoming years. 

Marching Illini form recycling symbol
The Marching Illini incorporated the recycling symbol into their halftime show.

Approach: ISTC led a multi-department collaboration to identify and deploy collection stations for composting and recycling across Memorial Stadium. ISTC also lead the effort to recruit and manage over 150 volunteers to guide fans on recycling practices. Additionally, ISTC worked with concessionaires and caterers to ensure that most of the service was either recyclable or compostable.

Scoreboard image at Memorial Stadium
Fans in the Block I used cards to form the recycling symbol.

Results: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign achieved a diversion rate of 60% by improving source separation of compostable and recyclable materials during this event. Among the Big 10 Conference schools participating in the Challenge that year, UIUC placed third in the “recycling” category and second in the “organics” category.

Other projects with this client:

https://tap.istc.illinois.edu/category/university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/