Food waste on Sierra Club agenda

Emma Dejong

Emma Dejong

A large piano, an adult Jersey cow, two refrigerators and four recliners each weighs 700 pounds. Equivalent to each of these is the amount of wasted food at SDSU each day.

Food waste is not just an issue on campus; it is in the community, as well. SDSU students are working on finding solutions for both.

“A ton of food gets wasted,” said Dan Breit, a senior biochemistry and global studies major. “A lot of students don’t know where their food waste goes.”

Four students from the Sierra Club, an environmentally conscious group on campus, have committed to reducing the amount of wasted food on campus. They have been accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University after proposing a plan to get a composter for SDSU.

CGI U is a conference hosted by former President Bill Clinton that will be held at the University of Miami April 16-18. Students accepted were required to make a pledge that specifically states how they will make the world a better place.

Kayla Miller, a senior microbiology major and president of the Sierra Club, said she “was jumping up and down in the parking lot” when she discovered they were accepted.

“We submitted (the application) before Thanksgiving and found out just before break,” Miller said. “I was really excited. It’s a great opportunity for South Dakota.”

Like Miller, Robin Nelson, a senior global studies and Spanish major, is excited for the experience of the conference.

“I got really excited and started visualizing my handshake that I would give Bill Clinton,” Nelson said.

It was originally Aramark, SDSU’s main food supplier, that approached the Sierra Club about a plan for a composter. Both groups are interested in cutting down the amount of food wasted, and a composter could potentially reduce waste production by 14 percent.

“I think it’s really been bringing together ideas that both parties have,” Breit said.

The group is hoping CGI U will be able to provide funds for the project, but the decision is pending.

“The application was for a grant,” Miller said. “There have been rumors that we’ll be getting the full $10,000.”

SDSU students are also looking at ways to reduce waste off-campus.

Erin Mercer, a fourth-year graduate student in chemistry and biochemistry, has been working with her adviser Fathi Halaweish for three years to create a catalyst that converts wasted grease into biodiesel.

The catalyst is a powder-like substance that is unique because of its reusability.

“It’s recyclable, and it can be used many times,” Mercer said. “That’s the biggest benefit.”

Because of this, users would end up saving money in the long run.

“Companies would be able to afford a catalyst like this, because it is affordable and they can reuse it,” Mercer said.

Mercer received a $10,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency’s People, Prosperity and the Planet program.

This money has gone towards research for the catalyst, “but the research costs more than that,” Halaweish, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said.

The next step for Mercer and Halaweish is getting other people on board.

“We are fighting for a patent,” Halaweish said. “Sometimes it takes a year or two, maybe more. Our next phase is to partner with a company.”

Like the catalyst project, the composter project has some factors still to be determined.

“A lot of the logistics are yet to be worked out,” Nelson said.

It still has to be decided what model of composter will be used, who would use it and where it would be located. Much of this depends on funding and approval through the university.

“As soon as we get permission, wheels will be in motion,” Miller said.