Partnership converts food waste into compost
A million pounds of food waste was diverted from landfills during the first year of a composting partnership between Illinois State University and Midwest Fiber, a full-service recycling firm in Central Illinois.
Food waste from the residence halls has been diverted to the ISU farm for the past two decades, with the resulting compost used around campus for landscaping. With limited resources, the University could not expand the operations.
ISU consequently approached Midwest Fiber to create a partnership. Both entities applied for separate Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity grants.
Grants for $125,000 were awarded to both. Midwest Fiber used the funds to buy a truck to collect food waste and transport it to the Illinois State farm in Lexington. ISU used its dollars to pour a concrete pad near the farm’s composting sites, allowing them to operate year-round. A grinder needed to break down the food waste was also purchased.
ISU expanded its collection to all campus dining centers and catering services, as well as some restaurants in Bone Student Center. Midwest Fiber sought contracts in the community. As a result there are now nine participants, including local hotels, corporations, schools, and retailers.
“We tried to develop it so it could be as budget neutral as possible,” said now retired director of ISU’s Ground and Fleet Operations Mike O’Grady. “While it’s the right thing to do, you can only expect businesses to do it if it doesn’t affect the bottom line.”
ISU expects more businesses to participate in the project and only charges Midwest Fiber $20 per truckload to dump waste at the farm—about half the cost of landfill tipping fees. While participants pay Midwest to pick up the food waste, they are paying less for garbage pickup because the garbage flow is reduced. Food waste makes up nearly 30 percent of landfill space.