The University of Findlay’s Enactus chapter, an entrepreneurial club, is on a sustainability mission that it hopes will include the greater Findlay community. Its aim is to recruit and educate so that food waste can be processed for reuse instead of ending up in the landfill.
“We’ve had several meetings with local waste management vendors and a handful of food service organizations” to gauge interest in such a project, said Gregory Arburn, Ph.D., assistant professor of economics and finance, and the club’s advisor. Talks with representatives at Marathon and Sodexo, UF’s food service vendor, have shown promise, Arburn said.
The group’s initial strategy has been to approach places that serve large groups, but they hope that others, including owners of local restaurants, will consider assisting with the effort.
If larger businesses get on board, perhaps they and their employees can encourage the smaller places that they patronize to do so too, said acting Enactus President Karolina Tovpenec, a senior at UF who is also a retail manager intern for Sodexo. Such involvement might even be something to brag about from a promotional aspect, and thereby increase sales, she conjectured.
Organic waste can be composted and used as fertilizer, and can be “cooked” in anaerobic digesters to generate biofuel. Enactus found that UF’s equestrian farms already reuse all of their approximately 22,000 pounds of manure generated annually by composting it with vegetable waste for organic farming, composting dead livestock and making it available for garden fertilizer.
But food waste collection continues to present a conundrum in the recycling realm, said Arburn. Many corporations have sustainability plans, but not all plans incorporate food waste into their models, he said. Those who do recycle such material can easily run into problems, particularly with contamination from other products, he explained. Separating plastic, glass and other materials from food is typically too tedious and time consuming to merit much appreciable benefit. Therefore, educating consumers and businesses about separation at the trashcan is key.
Enactus is working through other challenges, such as where food waste could be processed for reuse; the closest commercial site is near Toledo, Arburn said, but hauling waste for several miles would certainly make the overall project less “green.” The club is researching purchases of machines, such as anaerobic digesters, that could be used here.
According to David Harr, Sodexo’s director of dining services at UF, a 2011 calculation showed that consumers at Henderson Dining Hall discard about 2,628 pounds of food per week. The goal for Henderson is to deposit nothing into the landfill. “We think that’s an attainable goal,” he said.
A 2012 report issued by the National Resources Defense Council detailed that food production requires a large amount of energy and resources, yet 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten. Americans are pitching out $165 billion worth of food each year. “Reducing food losses by just 15 percent would feed more than 25 million Americans every year at a time when one in six Americans lack a secure supply of food to their tables,” the report stated.
Enactus is inviting any local entity that serves and handles food to join in its ongoing conversation about food waste recycling possibilities. Contact Tovpenec at (224) 595-5101 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.