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

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 worked with Feeding Illinois and other project partners to continue pilot project efforts with Rendleman Orchards. Additional pilot projects with other growers and farmers markets were conducted to test various fresh food aggregation strategies. The project team also continued outreach and engagement efforts with farmers to both increase participation and gather feedback on the program. 

In the fall of 2023, IL Governor J.B. Pritzker signed House Bill 2879, officially establishing a Farm to Food Bank Program in Illinois (see links below in the “Results” section)! ISTC continues to support Feeding Illinois and other project partners in launching 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.