Focus on Food Waste: New Guide Catalogs State Regulations on Food Scraps as Animal Feed

The US EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy establishes priorities for the types of activities individuals and organizations can undertake to prevent and reduce food waste. The hierarchy is depicted as an inverted pyramid, showing the most desirable or effective activities at the top (the pyramid’s “base”), with least desirable activities at the bottom (the pyramid’s “tip”).


US EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy


As with any consideration of waste reduction, source reduction, or preventing waste before it occurs through changes in processes is the most preferred category of activity in this hierarchy. Source reduction activities can include actions such as adjusting food preparation practices so less surplus food is generated, altering food buying habits to reduce spoilage of product before it can be used, or altering serving practices so that people are not provided more food than they are likely to eat. Source reduction of food waste is the most efficient means to ensure that the myriad resources invested in food production and distribution (water, land, energy, human labor, etc.) are not squandered. Next on the list of priorities is feeding hungry people–in other words, diverting any unused, edible food to food banks, shelters, soup kitchens or similar programs so it provides nutrition as intended, instead of occupying space in a landfill. If food cannot be diverted for human consumption (because it is deemed unfit for humans, because it exceeds the amount of food that can be feasibly managed by human food donation infrastructure, etc.), then the next most desirable option is to use food scraps as livestock feed, or food for animals in shelters, zoos, or as raw material for animal feed manufacturers. Many of us may have mental images of farmers in days gone by saving scraps for pig feed, or “slop.” During WWII, when so many materials were in short supply due to the war effort, this practice was even encouraged by governments, as evidenced by this historic UK poster:


WWII poster promoting saving kitchen scraps for pig feed

Image source: Save


In modern times, diverting food scraps to feed animals has continued to be used in some instances with great success, keeping materials out of landfill and reducing operating costs for businesses and institutions. The US EPA web site features success stories from New Jersey’s Rutgers University and MGM Resorts International, which diverts scraps from several properties in Las Vegas. However, many well-intentioned programs attempt to divert food scraps to animal feed without being aware of the patchwork of regulations and restrictions that exist throughout the country, sometimes inadvertently violating the laws of their state. Regulations vary widely, and are tied to modern efforts to control the spread of disease among livestock. Some states allow feeding of scraps to livestock after heat treatment to ensure destruction of disease vectors. Other states, including Illinois, have outright bans on feeding food scraps to livestock, particularly swine, even if the scraps are plant-based. The one exception to the Illinois restrictions is that farmers may use scraps from their own households to feed their own swine. While researching state law on this matter for ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge, I was personally struck by the use of the word “garbage” which regulation defines as “All waste material derived in whole or in part from the meat of any animal (including fish and poultry) or other animal material, and other refuse of any character whatsoever that has been associated with any such material, resulting from the handling, preparation, cooking, or consumption of food, except that such term shall not include waste from ordinary household operations which is fed directly to swine on the same premises where such household is located. Garbage also includes putrescible vegetable waste. “Garbage” does not include the contents of the bovine digestive tract. § 5/48-7 (2015).” Not exactly the common citizen’s definition of the word.


Luckily, to help guide organizations and individuals that are focusing more of their efforts on food recovery, the University of Arkansas Food Recovery Project and the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic have just released a first of its kind guide cataloging the various different state regulations tied to feeding food scraps to animals. Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide to Using Excess Food as Animal Feed, can assist in navigating the somewhat daunting array of such regulations, helping programs ensure compliance with both federal and state law. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in food recovery, and for those interested in sustainability-related policy, it can provide an interesting example of how complex seemingly simple solutions may become when regulations vary from one location to the next. The guide is available online in PDF format from the Center for Health Law & Policy Innovation at the Harvard Law School.


Leftovers for Livestock cover image

Discover Smart Irrigation in U.S. EPA WaterSense Webinar

United States Environmental Protection Agency's Water Sense logoIn this high tech world we still have some low tech ways to control automated services such as irrigation. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program has teamed with the Alliance for Water Efficiency to bring you a webinar on new WaterSense labeled weather-based irrigation controls that use smart tech to optimize irrigation and water savings. Register for the September 15th smart irrigation webinar.


As a WaterSense partner, ISTC encourages the public to conserve water in a number of ways including our One Billion Gallon Water Challenge. You can pledge to save water today! Our Challenge also sponsored six water conservation efforts at businesses, cities, and colleges/universities in 2014-2015 that saved Illinois over 70 million gallons of water.


ISTC also helps Illinois businesses, manufacturers, government agencies, and organizations conserve water via our technical assistance program. ISTC has recently helped Illinoisans save over 45 million gallons though process efficiency and retrofits.

Walgreens Creates New Medicine Take-Back Program

Walgreens logoWalgreens has started a medicine take back program at select Walgreens in Illinois.  If all goes well, they will be expanding the program to other states later this year. A full list of take-back locations and more details about the program can be found in their press release.


There are a variety of reasons to take advantage of such programs. One of the most important reasons, fighting drug abuse – a national public health and safety concern.  Another reason is to prevent accidental contamination of the environment. Find out more information on how medicines and personal care products enter the environment, affect plants and animals, and potential solutions on ISTC’s website.


Many Illinois communities have already started take-back programs.  Typically the drop boxes are located at police stations. Find a drop box in your community by visiting the Illinois EPA’s searchable map.


Don’t already have a medicine take-back program in your community? You can start your own local take-back program. Visit the Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant’s (IISG) website to learn more. IISG may have funding opportunities or could help procure funding assistance for your community.



Focus on Food Waste: Donations Encouraged by New IL Law

The latest edition of the Illinois Environmental Council newsletter contained good news for those concerned with food waste reduction in K-12 schools and public agencies:


HB5530 was signed on July 15 and is immediately effective. This law prohibits schools and public agencies from signing contracts that restrict unused food from being donated to food pantries or soup kitchens.” (emphasis added)


Photo from USDA

Photo from USDA.


As mentioned in a previous post, federal law, in the form of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, protects citizens, businesses, and institutions from liability when food items are donated in good faith. Despite the existence of this law, there is widespread lack of understanding related to the legality and liability associated with food donation, and it is not uncommon to encounter people who work with food who genuinely believe that food donation should thus be avoided.


Indeed, in a report from the Illinois Radio Network, Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Council, expressed surprise that public entities in Illinois would require encouragement to donate unused food to food banks, pantries or shelters. But her own interactions with food service workers illustrated a belief among them that food donation was “banned.”  Some of this confusion may stem from language in contracts with food service providers at the school or district level. So the new state legislation clarifies the legality of food donation, and encourages it, by preventing schools and public agencies from signing contracts with such restrictive language. This legislation touches upon economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainability by helping schools and agencies divert waste from landfill and thus save money in terms of waste hauling, by helping provide nutrition to community members struggling with food insecurity, and through avoidance of wasting resources embedded in the production of food, such as water and energy.


To learn more about food donation in schools, view the video and slides from the “Food Donation for Schools” webinar on ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge web site, available at See also the presentation on “Using Zero Percent to Donate Surplus Food” from Raj Karmani, available at The Green Lunchroom Challenge activity on establishing a food donation policy has some useful links to help find food banks and pantries in your area. For more ideas on how to reduce and prevent food waste at your school or organization, see

Focus on Food Waste: Product Label Date Dilemma

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 40% of food in the US goes uneaten. This astonishing figure carries even more impact when you consider that food production accounts for 10% of the total US energy budget, 50% of US land use, and 80% of our fresh water consumption. Additionally, according to Feeding America, in 2014 48.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households (including 32.8 million adults and 15.3 million children). Consider further that our discussion hasn’t yet ventured beyond our own country’s borders. The Rockefeller Foundation estimates that “one-third of the world’s available food either spoils or gets thrown away before it ever reaches a plate—that’s enough to feed everyone in the world for two months.”


A tag sealing a bag of hot dog buns displays a best before date of February 29.

A tag sealing a bag of hot dog buns displays a best before date of February 29. From original file by Bando26, CC BY-SA 3.0.


There are a multitude of reasons why food waste occurs along the entire supply chain from farm to kitchen, but one of the most confusing issues for consumers has been the lack of consistency and clarity surrounding dates printed on food packaging. We have all probably encountered at least one person who will not dare consume something beyond the “use by” or “sell by” date printed on its label for fear of food-borne illness. However, as the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service points out, these calendar dates are not actually associated with food safety. In fact, the only food product which is required by federal law to have a product date on its label is infant formula. And the “use-by” dates on formula packaging are there to ensure the product conveys the level of nutrition advertised on its label, and that the product’s consistency will still allow it to pass through an ordinary bottle nipple–not to prevent transmission of food-borne disease.


As stated on the USDA web site, the following types of “open” or printed calendar dates may appear on food labels. These dates are tied to peak quality, not food safety. And that level of quality is usually determined by a manufacturer or producer. Different manufacturers may have different ideas of what “peak quality” means.

  • “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale.
  • “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

Additionally, “Closed or coded dates” may appear as packing numbers for use by the manufacturer, primarily on canned foods. These would not be recognizable to a consumer as a calendar date, and they’re used to help manufacturers with rotation of stock and identifying products in case of a recall.


The perception that food products older than those stamped dates might somehow no longer be wholesome is the reason why so much perfectly useful food ends up in dumpster and trash cans. It’s why your local supermarket might offer deep discounts on items which have a fast approaching date stamped on them, and why so many retailers and organizations hesitate to donate items to food banks and pantries, despite a federal law that protects them from liability if someone becomes ill after consumption of an item donated in good faith. That law is called the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act; you can read more about it, including the actual text of the legislation, on the Feeding America web site.


To be sure, food does go bad, and a smart consumer trusts his or her senses when it comes to such things. Simple cues, such as the smell, look, and feel of a foodstuff are much more informative about food safety than any calendar date stamped upon food packaging. The aforementioned USDA site includes some good guidelines related to actual safety. The Business Insider article “Expiration dates are bogus — here’s the best way to tell if a food’s gone bad,” also provides some useful tips. Other useful sites include StillTasty, EatByDate, and


In response to increased awareness related to food label date confusion, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine introduced a bill earlier this year aimed at creating a uniform national date labeling system, with an eye toward greater clarity for consumers and companies, as well as waste reduction. You can read the text of the proposed Food Date Labeling Act of 2016, and track its progress, on See also “Consumer Perceptions of Date Labels: National Survey.”


To learn more about other food waste related issues, check out the Huffington Post’s Reclaim project. To raise awareness of food waste issues among students and help K-12 schools and districts reduce and prevent food waste, check out ISTC’s Green Lunchroom Challenge.

ISTC Sponsored Research Evaluates Acoustic Leak Detection Network

water leak detection sensors in fire hydrants

A technology demonstration in a greater Chicago neighborhood tested acoustic sensors designed to detect water leaks through a network permanently installed in fire hydrants.



ISTC’s  Billion Gallon Water Challenge has released a video of its research collaboration with American Water and Echologics to demonstrate new leak detection technology for residential drinking water distribution systems.


Last year the research partners tested the effectiveness of Echologics’ acoustic sensors (designed to be permanently) placed in fire hydrants in a greater Chicago neighborhood — in a multi-channel wireless network to provide real-time 24/7 leak detection in buried distribution systems and demonstrated accuracy of 90 percent.


one billion gallon water challengeThe technology demonstration was one of ISTC’s Billion Gallon Water Challenge (BGWC) research projects which aimed at saving freshwater resources at multiple levels. A case study on this and other BGWC research is available on ISTC’s website. The technology demonstration was also featured by in “Sound Sensors Can Detect Water Pipe Leaks.”


In the BGWC video, Kevin Hillen, Illinois American Water operations superintendent, explains that 12-15 percent of water in the Chicago area is lost to leaks.  As water pipe infrastructure continues to age, a greater proportion of potable water will be lost without proactive leak detection and pipe replacement efforts, he added.


“Leaks have a distinct sound signature,” according to Eric Stacey, Echologics product manager. “Leaks occur in specific frequency bands for different materials of pipe,” he explained. In cast iron pipes, for instance, leaks produce a sound at about 300 Hz. “It’s audible, the human ear can hear it, and it stands out from a normal pipeline operation.”


map of sensor network placement

Networked together, an array of acoustic sensors can pinpoint water leaks as they form.

Economics determines the acceptable level of leakage in a water system. In suburban Chicago, where the cost of water exceeds $5 per 1,000 gallons, the necessity of minimizing leaks is greater than average. At the lower end, water can be delivered in some areas for as little as $0.35 per 1,000 gallons.


The installation successfully zeroed in on leaks forming in the American Water distribution system in a neighborhood near Des Plaines, IL. Correlating the data with specialized algorithms, “we were able to show leaks that formed and we were able to show water savings,” Stacey said.


BGWC research is funded by the Illinois Hazardous Waste Research Fund.

Sustainability and the US Army Corps of Engineers

The US Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) employs over 35,000 military and civilian engineers which provide engineering solutions in 130 countries.  Research to develop the latest and best engineering solutions in conducted in house at the ACE’s Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) which consists of 14 facilities across the nation including Alaska. Local to Champaign, IL, is the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) which conducts research on military installations; contingency bases; sustainable ranges and lands; enhancing socio-cultural understanding in theater operations; and improving civil works facilities and infrastructure, to name a few. CERL also houses ERDC’s Center for the Advancement of Sustainability Innovations (CASI), which was started in 2006 to help ACE and the DoD (Department of Defense) become more sustainable.


front cover of the Sustainability-Related Publications Calender Years 2014-2015 publication by CASICASI recently released a document discussing 2014 and 2015 publications related to sustainability (Sustainability-Related Publications Calendar Years 2014 – 2015). The document groups the papers into nine categories (in order of appearance):

  • Anticipating Emerging Issues
  • Climate Change
  • Sustainable Installations — Net Zero Planning
  • Sustainable Energy Solutions
  • Sustainable Water & Waste Resources
  • Sustainable Facilities and Infrastructure
  • Sustainable Contingency Basing
  • Sustainable Natural Infrastructure
  • Green Remediation and Reuse

Each sections includes the authors, publication titles, if the publication is a draft, and a link to the publication (if it is available), abstract, and an image from the full publication.


Sources and More Reading

Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing

Pulp and paper manufacturing companies usually are very resource-intensive and utilize large quantities of water and wood in their operations. In order to help them be more sustainable as well as reduce operational costs, the NY State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I) is leading a multi-agency effort working with four pulp and paper mills in New York’s Great Lakes watershed region that has resulted in toxic chemical reductions as well as improvements to energy and water usage at those companies.

The four-year program, titled “Toxics Reduction and Sustainability in Paper Manufacturing,” is part of a vast Great Lakes Restoration Initiative led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and includes the efforts of many federal agencies.

The first of four case studies has recently been published.  The initial case study is about sustainability efforts at Finch Paper LLC which specializes in uncoated paper for digital and traditional printing markets. Finch Paper turned to NYSP2I for an analysis of two areas within their operations: ammonia recovery and heat recovery.  Other case studies from this program will be published soon and will be available on the NYSP2I case study website.

Sustainable Home Renovations

home renovationSummer and Renovations are like two peas in a pod, birds of a feather, or peanut butter and jelly.  They just seem to go together. Let’s take a look at a few sustainable options for home renovations.


Environment: Sustainably Sourced Materials

Sustainably sourced materials include those that are sourced locally or are made with renewable or recycled materials. One example is bamboo flooring; because of bamboo’s ability to grow quickly it is considered renewable. Another example is recycled glass or rock counter tops. Continue reading

Academic/Government Partners Work Toward the Next Level in Home Water Filtration


Nanoparticle Membrane Technology Investigated for Commercial Viability  

gold membrane for water filtration

Illustration of free-standing gold membrane with nanoparticles 6 nanometers in diameter and openings of 2 micrometers.

ISTC’s Nandakishore Rajagopalan and Wei Zheng are part of a team of experts from government and academia who are working to improve the filtration of household drinking water using new ultrathin nanoparticle-based membranes to remove trace organic contaminants (TrOCs).


The U.S. Department of Energy will fund the work through its Technology Commercialization Fund, which moves promising energy technologies developed by 12 national laboratories and their research partners to the marketplace. ISTC will assist in the testing the performance of prototype TrOCs filtration membrane devices which may be commercially viable for the home water filtration market. The primary investigator on the project is Xiao-Min Lin, a scientist at Argonne’s Center for Nanoscale Materials and at the James Franck Institute, University of Chicago.


Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago developed the technology for the new membrane structure using gold nanoparticles which are strong and porous, and which can be ‘dialed’ to selectively trap different contaminants by engineering the ligand on the particle surface. A ligand is a molecule that binds to a central metal atom to form a complex that helps to protect the nanoparticle and introduce additional functionalities. Laboratory measurements have demonstrated the nanoparticle based membrane can selectively filter out molecules as small as 2 micrometers, yet has water permeability far higher than conventional polymer-based membranes.


For two years, scientists at Argonne, ISTC and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) of Greater Chicago have been conferring on the problem of removing TrOCs from potable water supplies. Such contaminants consist of hormones, pesticides, prescription medications, personal care products, synthetic industrial chemicals, and chemicals formed during wastewater and drinking-water treatment processes. Even at very low concentrations these molecules can negatively affect aquatic environments and are of concern for human health impacts.


“Modern wastewater treatment plants were not designed to remove such materials, especially at such low concentrations,” said Wei Zheng, a senior research scientist at ISTC.


The search has been ongoing for methods to remove TrOCs including biodegradation, photolysis, volatization, and sorption. “We hope a gold nanoparticle-based membrane approach will improve the sorption efficiency of TrOC removal at low pressure and low energy — at a cost that makes it widely available for home filtration,” he said.


“Deploying new clean energy technologies is an essential part of our nation’s effort to lead in the 21st century economy and in the fight against climate change,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy in announcing the grant. DOE’s Technology Commercialization Fund “will help to accelerate the commercialization of cutting-edge energy technologies developed in our national labs, making them more widely available to American consumers and businesses.”