Calling All Parks! Get Your Green On

remain green and carry onISTC loves recycling. Last year our Zero Waste Program turned Forest Preserves of Cook County on to a great opportunity with the Keep America Beautiful / Dr. Pepper Snapple Park Recycling Infrastructure Grants. It was a nice boost to a Chicago parks program that had already made sustainability a high art form.


Keep America Beautiful is offering the grants again to parks, athletic fields, nature trails and public beaches. Hurry though! You need to apply by June 10.


Another fabulous KAB opportunty is their Anheuser-Busch Community Restoration Grants Program. When natural disasters affect public areas, this program can assist in restoration.

Charcoal vs. Gas – A Sustainability Question

The age-old American tradition of a backyard barbeque dates back to at least 1672 when John Lederer mentioned “barbecue” in his writings. Over the years there has been secret recipes and perfect techniques that brought about the classic question: Charcoal or Gas? While there are merits to both for taste, evenness of cooking, and cooking time, the bigger question we should be asking these days is: “Which one is more sustainable?”


What you eat

Let’s get one caveat out of the way. What you are grilling has more of an impact on your sustainable grilling event than which grill you are using. Beef has two times or more of an environmental impact than chicken or vegetables. More reading on the true cost of food:



gas grillThe charcoal vs. gas debate isn’t as clear cut as you might think. While it is fairly obvious that charcoal puts out more particulate matter when burning, it also gives off about two times more carbon dioxide emissions than propane gas. Initially then because of those points, I thought gas was more environmentally friendly, but let’s take a step back and look at the whole picture.


Propane gas comes from fossil fuels and is not renewable because it takes millions of years to form. Plus, you have the environmental impacts from the refinery processes and the transportation emissions to get the propane to your local store. On the other hand, charcoal is in a sense a renewable fuel because it is made from trees that can be, in theory, replanted. Charcoal could also be considered carbon neutral because as we burn the charcoal releasing CO2, other trees that replaced the harvested trees are taking up CO2. But this concept relies on more trees being planted than the number of trees harvested because young trees do not use as much CO2 as older trees. Also charcoal still has the same transportation emissions as propane gas to get the charcoal to the stores.


However, there is ash left over after a charcoal fire that needs to be landfilled whereas propane gas has no solid residuals. In addition, many people use lighter fluid to start charcoal but a more sustainable option is to use a chimney starter which requires little to no liquid fuel.


charcoal grill with chimney

But there is more to the charcoal story. Typical molded briquettes contain additives and lighter fluid that cause air pollution, such as PAHs, when burned, but they also are made of wood waste like sawdust that would normally end up in the landfill. A possibly more sustainable charcoal is lump charcoal that can come from sustainable sourced timber but typically these options are not locally sourced and produced, so transportation emissions should be included in their carbon footprint. The best case scenario for charcoal would be to use locally sourced lump charcoal derived from wood scraps used in conjunction with a chimney starter.


All in all, if you are planning to grill, there is no right or wrong method because CO2 emissions from grills and barbeques account for only 0.0003% of the U.S. annual carbon footprint. In contrast, the major problems surrounding “grills,” otherwise known as cook fires, are in poor nations. A 2005 study by University of California-Berkeley and Harvard researchers found that pollutants from these cook fires cause 1.6 million deaths per year due to respiratory diseases. Paul Anderson, known as Dr. TLUD, has done work with many poor communities in developing countries to teach them the manufacturing technology and health benefits of top-lit up-draft (TLUD) cookstoves, which reduce emissions considerably when compared to traditional cook fires.


Dr. TLUD and friends


Resources and More Reading

Sustainable Memorial Day

Memorial Day


Memorial Day – A day when Americans honor those who have died in military service to the United States of America. Many of us honor the dead by visiting cemeteries, posting a flag, and by having potlucks and grilling celebrations. Let us take the opportunity to honor what those brave Americans fought for by committing to sustainability this Memorial Day. Let’s help to “Keep America Beautiful!”


A few tips for a sustainable Memorial Day:

  1. farmers marketBuy local – Shopping at your local farmers’ market for fresh salad ingredients can significantly reduce your carbon footprint and also reduce the packaging that will end up in the landfill.
  2. Switch to chicken, fish, or veggie burgers – Beef and pork products have two to three times the environmental impact as chicken, fish, and especially veggie burgers because of the greater water, energy, and land resources needed to feed cattle and hogs.
  3. Reusables – This day and age nearly all homes have dishwashers. So this Memorial Day skip the disposables and use reusables to keep your party out of the landfill.
  4. Eco- and Family-friendly activities – gardening with native plants or heading out for a walk/bike ride as a family are some great family-friendly Memorial Day activities that are also eco-friendly.
  5. Pooper Scoopers – It’s fun to get out and play with your pets but if your pet does a number two while out and about, it is best pick it up. Pets poop contains bacteria. While it is not immediately toxic, the combination of thousands of people not picking up poop and rainy weather can cause the bacteria to get into local streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater aquifers and contaminate them. Case Study: It really did happen! The city of Austin, TX, is home to more than 250,000 dogs. After the start of their “Scoop the Poop” campaign, the city saw a significant decrease in giardia, roundworms, salmonella, and other viruses and parasites in their local waterways, thus improving the environment and conditions for recreational activities.

family fun with dog



It’s Not Mr. Fusion, But It’s A Whiz at Energy Production

Mr. Sewer image

The multi-stage waste-to-biofuel system can make municipal solid waste and wastewater into a renewable power source.


Pairing of Waste Processing and Algae Farming Offers ‘Clean’ Energy 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — “Mr. Sewer” is a multi-stage waste-to-biofuel production system under development by ISTC which can extract 100 percent of energy from a wide variety of wastes.


No, it’s not the fabled perpetual motion machine, it combines hydrothermal liquefaction of wastes with algae farming, which captures additional energy from the sun.


The best news is it can use a variety of energy-rich materials that are now landfilled. According to Lance Schideman, research scientist at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center, the optimal location for the Mr. Sewer system is close to a sanitary landfill, a wastewater treatment plant, or both. A video on the energy research is available here.


Sewage solids, food wastes, even waste paper are all rich in energy content. This system can remove both organics and nutrients in these sources and turn them into renewable energy resources. Processing of wastewaters is combined with algae farming in a way that amplifies the energy production while cleaning the water for potential reuse applications. The nutrients support algal growth and the algae are then harvested for use in biofuels.


Amplified by the sun’s energy and multi-cycle nutrient reuse, an optimized system can harvest three to ten times the energy contained in the wastewater.


Calculations based on a commercial-scale demonstration plant on the University of Illinois campus indicate the technology is well-suited to generate fuel/revenue from wastes at the scale of a small city, a military installation, or a large animal feeding operation.


Theoretically Mr. Sewer, applied to all U.S. wastewater treatment plants and livestock operations, could produce enough bio-energy to replace all current petroleum imports, according to Schideman.


Today the commercial-scale plant is being optimized and a mobile version of the system is being developed.

Celebrate International Compost Awareness Week

In the US, the beginning of May has people thinking of several celebrations, including Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and even Star Wars Day (May the 4th, as in “May the Fourth Be With You”). But did you know the first week of May is also celebrated annually as International Compost Awareness Week?


Composting allows organic materials, such as food scraps and yard waste, to break down naturally into a nutrient rich resource that can be used in gardening and landscaping in place of commercially available fertilizers. Application of compost reduces erosion, and can help your soil retain water, reducing costs associated with watering and contributing to water conservation. Composting can also reduce waste hauling costs, as well as greenhouse gas emissions associated with the breakdown of organic materials in landfills in the absence of oxygen.


If you’d like to learn more about composting, check out the following resources:


If you’re a college or university student interested in pursuing research related to composting, check out the CCREF Young Investigator Scholarship.

Now There Is an ‘I’ in Green, Art, and Krannert

Architecture and engineering students Nahid Akarm and Hursh Hazari teamed up to create the great Block-I sculpture installed for Earth Week in the lobby at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Architecture and engineering students Nahid Akarm (right) and Hursh Hazari teamed up to create the great Block-I sculpture installed for Earth Week in the lobby at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

“Are you responsible for this?” asked a man hurrying by and pointing to a massive Block-I sculpture in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts lobby. “Great job!”


Hursh Hazari and Nahid Akarm, first-time artists of monumental found object sculpture, beamed and waved in acknowledgement.


The two are responsible for the Block-I shaped from campus’ own early spring supply of empty beverage bottles. The sculpture is a Earth Week gift of ISTC and the Student Sustainability Committee as an impossible-to-miss reminder of the importance of recycling or repurposing the mountains of waste we produce.


Nahid is in the first year of a master’s of architecture program. His designs for buildings are already built in his native Bangladesh. After completing his undergraduate training at the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology he worked at an architectural firm for four years.


Hursh studied polymer science as an undergrad at Dehli Technological University in New Dehli, but his interests turned to renewable solar and wind energy, so he enrolled at the U of I to study power and energy systems. He plans to promote sustainable energy use in India, where unreliable power grids make grass roots wind and solar installations very popular.


ARTIST! ARTIST! - Hursh Hazari (left) is an engineering graduate student from India. Nahid Akarm is a graduate student in architecture from Bangladesh.

ARTIST! ARTIST! – Hursh Hazari (left) is an engineering graduate student from India. Nahid Akarm is a graduate student in architecture from Bangladesh.

Both spotted the job as sculptors on campus’ virtual job board and saw in it work that advanced their professional interests. They needed all of the 20 oz. beverage bottles they could sort at the campus Waste Transfer Station for their design. They were washed and disinfected at ISTC and, over the course of three weeks, they were fitted into their new educational configuration.


ISTC’s Zero Waste Illinois program is noting the metrics from the sculpture project as part of their ongoing campus building waste characterization project here at the U of I. ISTC is helping the University meet its Illinois Climate Action Plan (iCAP) goals with waste audits of individual campus buildings – a big step toward becoming a zero waste campus.  


The artwork is on display at Krannert through Saturday, April 23. More on the sculpture.


Proper Disposal of Unwanted Drugs Getting Easier

Got Drugs?



dropboxes for unwanted drugs

Handy, secure dropboxes at Champaign, Urbana and U of I police stations make disposing of unwanted drugs easy.


Saturday April 30 is National Prescription Take-Back Day in the U.S.A. The Drug Enforcement Administration has organized a network of local law enforcement agencies to accept unwanted or expired human or veterinary drugs and to educate the public about the need to properly dispose of these medications.


Check DEA’s handy collection site locator  if you want to drop off your drugs between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 30.


If you live in the Champaign-Urbana area you can use secure dropboxes ANYTIME in the lobbies of the following police departments:


Champaign: 82 E University Ave.


Urbana: 400 S Vine St.


University of Illinois: 1110 W Springfield Ave, Urbana.


Of course the DEA is interested in halting abuse of unused drugs which are often misappropriated from the home medicine cabinets. But a DEA news release makes the alarming understatement that “Americans are now advised that their usual methods for disposing of unused medicines—flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash—both pose potential safety and health hazards.” To keep unused medications out of the reach of children and pets and also to prevent abuse by others taking the medications, all unused medications should be taken to drop box collection sites.  You should keep the medications in their original containers and black out your name and address if on the label before dropping them off.


Information on ISTC’s recent research on the emerging problem is available online. A lot more about proper handling and disposal of drugs and personal care products is provided by IL-IN Sea Grant.


ISTC, IL-IN Sea Grant, and the U of I Extension are now working together to improve pharmaceutical give-back locations state-wide. Scientific studies are revealing the bio-active compounds are having observable consequences when they get into the aquatic environment.

State Electronics Challenge Recognizes the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) as a 2016 Gold Winner

[Champaign, Illinois April 4, 2016]
The Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) today received a Gold award for its achievements in the State Electronics Challenge; a comprehensive nationwide environmental sustainability initiative that currently reaches more than 220,000 employees in 47 states. ISTC was recognized for its accomplishments in green procurement, energy and paper conservation, and responsible recycling of electronic office equipment in 2015.


“ISTC’s program is a truly outstanding example of a commitment to environmental leadership,” commented Lynn Rubinstein, State Electronics Challenge Program Manager. “This is the second year in a row that the program has earned a Gold Award.” She added that “ISTC is one of only 12 organizations nationally being recognized this year and the only one in Illinois.”


“We’re really pleased to have received recognition again. Participating in the State Electronics Challenge has provided a great framework for our organization to ensure that we’re making better choices in purchasing as well as continuing efforts to limit impacts in the use and end-of-life management phases,” said Joy Scrogum, Emerging Technologies Resource Specialist and coordinator of ISTC’s Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI).


As a result of these environmental initiatives, in 2015 ISTC saved enough energy to power 6 households per year, avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to removing 8 cars from the road per year, as well as avoiding the generation of more than 50 pounds of hazardous waste – equivalent to the weight of a refrigerator.


ISTC has committed to purchasing computer and imaging equipment that is qualified by the Electronic Procurement Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT®) standard.  EPEAT is an internationally recognized system that identifies office equipment that meets specified environmental performance criteria.  It also uses power management and requires double-sided printing to decrease energy and paper usage, and ensures that at the end-of-life, equipment is recycled by a third-party certified electronics recycler – Secure Recycling Services & Secure Processors.


“ISTC was the first Illinois organization to participate in the State Electronics Challenge, joining back in 2011. We only began applying for recognition in recent years, after we took the time to write a specific policy that captured what we were already doing to make our electronics-related operations more sustainable, as well as setting forth purchasing standards. The written policy will help us stay on target and continuously improve in the coming years, through revisions as our goals change. ISTC provides technical assistance to organizations and businesses throughout the state, and we’ve been able to point clients and other University of Illinois departments to the SEC checklist and resources as a way of helping them tackle sustainable electronics issues in simple, manageable ways,” Ms. Scrogum stated.


The State Electronics Challenge offers its participants annual opportunities to document their achievements and receive recognition for those accomplishments.  In 2015, the reported actions of 31 participants in green purchasing of electronic office equipment, power management, and responsible recycling resulted in a total of more than 1,250 tons of electronics being recycled, which, along with power management and green procurement:


  • Prevented the release of almost 12,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2E). This reduction in greenhouse gases is equivalent to the annual emissions from 8,612 passenger cars.
  • Saved enough energy to supply 7,845 homes per year
  • Avoided the disposal of hazardous waste equivalent to the weight of 2,120 refrigerators
  • Avoided the disposal of solid waste – garbage – equivalent to the amount generated by 388 households/year.


A full list of winners and their environmental accomplishments can be found on the State Electronics Challenge website (


“The State Electronics Challenge provides state, tribal, regional and local agencies, as well as schools, colleges and universities and non-profit organizations with a great opportunity to integrate concepts of sustainability and waste reduction into their operations,” added Ms. Rubinstein.  “It’s inspiring to see programs such as the one developed and implement by the ISTC to ensure that the highest environmental practices are met through the lifecycle of office equipment.“


The State Electronics Challenge awards were made possible through donations from Samsung, Panasonic, and the R2/RIOS Program.


About ISTC

ISTC is a division of the Prairie Research Institute on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Its mission is to encourage and assist citizens, businesses, and government agencies to prevent pollution, conserve natural resources, and reduce waste to protect human health and the environment of Illinois and beyond. It promotes more sustainable technologies, processes, and practices through an integrated program of research, demonstration projects, technical assistance, and outreach. Learn more at


About the State Electronics Challenge

The State Electronics Challenge assists state, regional, tribal, and local governments to reduce the environmental impact of their office equipment.  It annually recognizes the accomplishments of Partner organizations. The Challenge is administered by the Northeast Recycling Council ( Currently, 157 state, tribal, regional, colleges, schools, universities, and local government agencies, and non-profit organizations, representing more than 212,600 employees, have joined the SEC as Partners.  For more information on the SEC, including a list of current Partner organizations, visit



Deadline Extended: Apply for the 2016 EPEAT Purchaser Awards by April 27th


The deEPEAT_logoadline has been extended until April 27th to submit applications for the EPEAT Purchaser Awards. The awards recognize excellence in green procurement of electronics. EPEAT Purchasers will earn a star for each product category for which they have a written policy in place that requires the purchase of EPEAT registered electronics.


The EPEAT Purchaser Awards are open to all organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products and meet the following requirements:


  1. Agree to have your organization as an EPEAT Purchaser. EPEAT Purchasers agree to share their specific EPEAT vendor contract language and to be listed on the EPEAT website. By submitting the EPEAT Purchaser Award Application, you agree to have your organization listed as an EPEAT Purchaser.
  2. Must have an organizational purchasing policy in place for environmentally preferable procurement of electronics (see model policy language)
  3. Must set specifications in contracts with vendors requiring that all electronic products in a specific category (PC/Displays, Imaging Equipment, and Televisions) achieve Bronze registration or higher in the EPEAT system in the country/countries of purchase (see model contract language)
  4. Must report annual purchase volume  of EPEAT registered products


Winners will be honored on Monday, May 23, during a ceremony in Washington DC. The Awards ceremony will be co-located with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) Summit at the Kellogg Conference Center and will take place immediately following the SPLC Pre-Summit Courses. All EPEAT Purchaser Award winners are invited to attend a brief reception before the ceremony, and then to participate in the ceremony itself.


For more information, and to apply, visit the EPEAT web site.

Illini Gadget Garage Hosts Pop-up Clinics

The Illini Gadget Garage is a collaborative repair program for student and staff owned electronic devices, funded by the UI Student Sustainability Committee (SSC), and administered by the Sustainable Electronics Initiative at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC), the UI School of Art and Design, and the UI Graduate School of Library and Information Science. In a previous post, we discussed the fact that renovations are necessary to bring the Gadget Garage’s planned permanent home into ADA compliance. We’re still working with “test pilot” clients, who don’t require ADA accommodations, at the permanent location (INHS Storage Building 3). In case you haven’t check the Gadget Garage Facebook page or web page recently, Spring 2016 hours are Thursdays from 3:30 PM to 6:00 PM and Fridays from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.


In the meantime, to help ensure that we’re serving all members of our campus community, we’re hosting “pop-up” clinics at various locations across campus. Gadget Garage staff have established a partnership with the residence hall libraries and last week (on March 30 & 31) the first pop-up clinics were held at the PAR and Allen Hall residence hall libraries. Those two residence hall libraries are once again hosting pop-up repair clinics on Wednesday, April 6 and Thursday, April 7th, respectively. Hours for the PAR clinic (Wed.) are 6-8 PM; Allen Hall clinics are 7-9 PM. Stop by for assistance with troubleshooting, diagnosing issues, and minor repair. We’re hoping to have clinics in these two residence hall libraries fairly regularly (not necessarily weekly); ask at the libraries for more information, or monitor the Gadget Garage Facebook page for announcements.


In the meantime, if your campus organization or department is interested in hosting a pop-up clinic, please fill out our form to indicate your interest and provide a bit of basic information. Gadget Garage staff will then follow-up with you for scheduling.


If you’re planning to either attend a pop-up clinic or to stop by the permanent location during open hours, consider filling out our Diagnostic Form to provide information on the device and problem you’re wanting to address. This will give Gadget Garage volunteers some information to help them do a bit of research before you come so they’re better prepared to assist you and use your time efficiently.


If you have other general questions, or would like to become involved with the project as a volunteer, send an email to You don’t have to be a tinkerer or technologically inclined to assist in the collaborative repair process, plus there are other project tasks to which your skills could be applied (e.g. social media, marketing, recruitment of volunteers, scheduling clinics, writing iFixit repair guides, creating resource guides for common questions/problems, etc.). Plus, although this is primarily a student project, staff and faculty who enjoy repair are also welcome to volunteer and become part of the “fixer” community here on campus! Everyone has their own expertise and strengths, and we’ll all learn from each other as we come together to keep devices in service for as long as possible.


Tentative Illini Gadget Garage identifying mark