Food waste starts the moment you enter the grocery store, but it can be stopped before it reaches the trash can. Becky Feldman, a sixth-semester civil engineering major, has instituted a simple, sustainable solution in the Hilltop Apartments with her food waste reduction project Food to Fuel.
When Feldman moved into Hilltop Apartments last fall, she was surprised that the apartment complex did not have a way to dispose of food waste sustainably.
“I’ve always grown up composting, so you know when I got into another — finally a place I could cook in the apartments — I really was kind of surprised that we didn’t have anything like that because we’re all cooking for ourselves,” Feldman said.
As someone who grew up composting, she wanted to bring that practice to her new lifestyle in an apartment. So, Feldman applied for a UConn Co-op Legacy Fellowship Change Grant. The program provides accepted applicants up to $2,000 to engage in projects including service initiatives, creative endeavors, advocacy and the like. Feldman decided to call her project Food to Fuel and began implementing her plan in Hilltop Apartments.
With her grant, Feldman purchased gallon-sized plastic pails with lids to serve as food waste containers that students could empty at a centralized location once they were full. To make the system as convenient as possible, Feldman opted for buckets with a handle that are also dishwasher-safe.
A sticker on each bin illustrates what can and cannot go into it. Students can deposit fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs, oils and even tea bags and coffee grounds into their food waste bins.
Though it is easy to call Feldman’s project composting, it’s truly more accurate to describe it as a sustainable method of food waste disposal. The food waste that students drop off at the curbside pick–up-style garbage container outside of Merritt in the Hilltop Apartments is transported to Quantum Biopower in Southington. There, the food is processed in an anaerobic digester to produce biogas that can power communities and is also turned into compost. (Dining Services transports their food waste here as well).
“We’re diverting it in a more sustainable way, which is really exciting and I think should be empowering to students because I think we often feel hopeless as to what we can really do to help the climate crisis,” Feldman said.
There are about 50-60 active participants using the food waste bins in Hilltop. Feldman says that when she goes to the central food waste container to change the plastic lining each week, it’s usually about one half to three-quarters of the way full. She estimates that this has so far diverted 1,700 pounds of food waste from the incinerator.
Besides properly disposing of physical food waste, Feldman wants to educate the Hilltop community about why they should be mindful of food waste. To keep people informed, Feldman sends out emails and GroupMe messages with educational facts. These helpful hints can range from anything about how to store food to make it last longer to how to keep an inventory of a pantry.
“I’m trying to keep the education going throughout the semester, that this is more than just, you know, it’s more than just about food waste,” Feldman said. “It’s about saving money on your groceries, it’s about lost nutrition in food waste.”
Feldman hopes to expand the program across campus in the future. In her opinion, places like the Student Union, dorms and offices can easily incorporate a place for sustainable food waste disposal next to their recycling and trash.
Moreover, Feldman wants to give UConn students opportunities to make a sustainable change. She wants Food to Fuel to empower students to make a difference and take more steps toward sustainability.
“In this program, you know where [the food waste is] going, and you know it’s making a sustainable impact,” Feldman said. “I’m trying to create more opportunities, more options for students to then if they want to use it, you know, I think it can be empowering to feel like you’re making a change, even if it’s small.”
If students in Hilltop Apartments would like to obtain a food waste bin, they can email Feldman at firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also learn more about Feldman’s Food to Fuel program by listening to the March 4 episode of the UConn 360 podcast.
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.