Grant helps food-waste project move forward

With a $25,600 grant, the USF Food Recovery Project will build anaerobic biodigesters to help reduce campus food waste. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

To help reduce food waste on campus, the USF Food Recovery Project received a $25,600 grant from the Green Energy Fund for its pilot year.

The project includes plans to build four new pilot anaerobic biodigesters, tanks that digest organic material biologically, around campus. The cost to build all four biodigesters is $4,000.

Whitney Fung, the principal investigator for the USF Campus Food Waste Recovery Project, said that during the first year, the project will only work with a limited number of locations, including Champions Choice and USF Facilities, due to the limited scope of the pilot project.

"There are no streamline ways to get students to use the machines already built on campus, that’s why we are building new ones," Fung said. "The machines located around campus are for a very small scale use. We need to build new machines so that we can recover food waste in large masses around campus."

According to Fung, USF currently pays a company to dispose of the wasted food produced around campus. The contractor is paid to collect and ship the trash bins into another facility where it is disposed.

Due to the high amount of food waste, most of it is primarily disposed of in landfills. If the waste does not end up in landfills, it is processed at incineration waste-to-energy facilities where the facilities try to recover as much as possible to convert it into green energy.

Each anaerobic biodigester site can produce a clean and environmentally friendly methane biogas and fertilizer by breaking down organic food matter. With this project, the two outputs will later be used to fertilize plants and, potentially, replace propane and natural gases harming the atmosphere and contributing to the campus’ carbon footprint.

The USF Food Recovery Project is one of the sustainability projects funded by the Student Green Energy Fund that aims to create a closed-loop food system by reducing food waste and utilizing organic wastes to generate renewable energy sources.

Students, staff and faculty representing different departments on campus, including the Office of Global Sustainability, Athletics and Dining Services, participate in the program.

The food-recovery project was proposed in May 2018 to the Student Green Energy Fund and was selected last month to start its pilot year.

Launched in 2011, the Student Green Energy Fund aims to reduce and consequently eliminate greenhouse gas emissions on campus. The fund is managed by a council of members who decide on projects that work to reduce the carbon footprint on campus.

One of the project’s goals is to partner with Aramark, USF’s food service provider, to recover the food wasted in each dining hall and divert it from landfills to create new renewable energy sources.

On campus, the project will assess the feasibility of using the biogas and fertilizer produced on fuel for fleets of golf carts and cooking fuel for campus events and demonstrations.

The project is creating a social marketing plan to work with students to reduce food waste in terms of promoting a zero-waste campus and increase awareness. The campaign will be collecting data from students through students to promote zero waste. The survey is currently being developed and it will be available to students through email in early spring.

"On campus, there's a lot of potentials to increase awareness about food waste among students since we are more than 50,000 future leaders of our state, country and even the world," Fung said. "College students are educated to give back to society. Now it's the time to care about the environment so we can save our planet, and it starts by spreading awareness about food waste."