Reduce Your Food Waste

If you’re living in an apartment or house and sharing a refrigerator with three, four, or maybe even five other people, keeping your food organized can be a bit of a challenge. Sharing food can be complicated, so everyone buys their own milk, eggs, bread, cereal, and so on. But is this really the most efficient way to use everyone’s money? How often do you finish your quart of 2% milk before it expires in the fridge next to your other roommates’ separate, yet identical, quarts of milk? How often have you come across the last half of your forgotten loaf of bread that had turned stale, or worse, moldy, because it was behind your roommates’ 12 grain? What can you do with sour milk and moldy bread? You can’t eat them, you can’t really cook with them, and unless you have an industrial sized compost pile, you can’t compost it either. Trash can it is.

Studies show that American households waste 25% of the food they buy each year. That’s a lot. During your time in college, you aren’t necessarily a typical household, so while these numbers might not be as accurate for you, food waste still affects you (and I’d argue even more so!). Food waste isn’t just about the wasted food, though. Every bit of food that goes to waste is the same as the money you spent on it going into the trash. Money is hard to come by as a college student, and even more difficult to keep – why throw it away?

There are better ways to manage your money and your food in a communal living situation. Everyone has their preferences, and no one is asking you to share everything, but you should talk with your roommates about going in together on the staples that you all enjoy. Sharing is caring, and sustainable! For your wallet and the environment!

A Greener Campus: Demolition of Steam Plant Smoke Stack Begins

A big change to Knoxville’s skyline is coming this month, as a 310-foot smoke stack on the UT campus will be demolished and removed.

The smoke stack was built in 1965 and can be seen from many parts of downtown. It’s the last visible remnant of the university’s old coal-fired boilers, which for decades generated steam for the campus.

Providing a steady source of steam is very important to the operation of the campus. Steam is used for the production of hot water, the heating of buildings, sterilizing medical and research equipment, and cooking, among other things.

The state funded $24 million of the $25 million project. UT invested $1 million.

“We are grateful for the support from Governor Haslam and the General Assembly that has allowed us to make this important change in how we power the campus,” said Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek. “This investment in our infrastructure is a big step forward in our efforts to be a more sustainable university.”

New boilers using clean-burning natural gas were installed over the summer and are now producing steam for more than 150 buildings on the Knoxville campus and the nearby Institute of Agriculture, reducing utilities emissions by 50 percent and carbon dioxide emissions by more than two-thirds. UT stopped burning coal in March 2015, making this the first fall and winter season that the university will not use coal to generate steam.

“It’s important that we continually work to reduce air, water and land pollution from campus operations,” said Dave Irvin, associate vice chancellor for facilities services, “and to demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship.”

Removing the smoke stack will assist in the campus’s beautification program as well, Irvin said. Now that the 310-foot structure is no longer necessary, its absence will improve the skyline of campus and downtown Knoxville.

The switch to natural gas also will result in financial savings, Irvin said, as long-term energy trends have greatly reduced the cost of natural gas as compared to other forms of energy.

Once site preparations are finished, a hole will be opened in the base of the smoke stack. The structure will not come down at once—workers will remove the layers of bricks slowly, starting at the top. Debris will fall inside the structure and be removed through the hole. It’s expected to take forty-five days to complete the demolition.

Final steps in the project include removing the last pieces of coal-handling equipment. The project is set to finish in 2016.

 

Steam Plant Smoke Stack Facts:

310 feet tall

27 feet in diameter at the base of the stack

1,000 cubic yards of brick

4 million pounds of brick

Brick is 32 inches thick at the base of the stack

 

Contact Brooke Krempa (734-945-9051, bsteve14@utk.edu) with any questions.

"Cheek Speak" Highlights Sustainability

Yesterday evening (Tuesday, November 10th), Chancellor Jimmy Cheek held his annual “Cheek Speak Town Hall” in Room 201 of the Haslam Business Building where he responded to questions and concerns from the student body.  Among the topics covered, sustainability came up. Students were curious about the Lake Loudoun smokestack (which is scheduled to come down this month), and what that meant regarding the sustainability on campus.  Cheek emphasized that UTK will see an increase in educational programs on sustainable practices.

As the session was coming to a close, he was also asked about the lack of bicycle racks on campus.  Cheek responded in favor of more bicycle racks because they “would reduce traffic on campus… [and] you would be healthier when you graduate.”  There are currently plans to install 60 more bicycle racks on campus through a student-inspired and student-funded (through the Green Fee) project.

For more information on the other topics covered at the “Town Hall,” check out today’s article in The Daily Beacon. For more information on the Student Green Fee, check out this link or come to our next meeting on November 24th!

Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL Expansion

The State Department has reached a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline:  they will not support it.  After reviewing the projected impacts, both environmentally and economically, along with the arguments for and against the proposed 875 mile addition and refurbishment of the existing Keystone Pipeline to cross a shorter distance and increase the capacity more than 100,000 additional barrels a day (for a final length of 1,179 miles and a capacity of 830,000 barrels a day).  President Obama announced his administration’s rejection of the pipeline on Friday of last week, November 6th.

The Keystone XL Pipeline extension has overtaken much of the US’s political discourse since it was proposed in 2008, and, according to Obama, it didn’t need to be. Supporters of the extension touted economic growth by way of exports and job creation. Opponents of the extension warned against the environmental impact. Obama criticized both sides emphasizing that the extension had “an over-inflated role in our political discourse,” calling it a symbol used by both parties against one another rather than “a serious policy matter.”  He emphasized that it’s misrepresentation “obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”  In light of that, Obama made this decision with regard to the US’s moves toward environmentally-conscious behaviors: “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

The oil being transported by the pipeline comes from Canada’s oil sands.  It is  17% more carbon intense than more traditional oil sources due to the heating method necessary to extract it from the sand.  If the pipeline extension had been approved, oil companies would have undoubtedly expanded development of these sands, which would have undoubtedly increased greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming.  Initially it was thought that if the US didn’t concede to the extension, TransCanada (the country who built the pipeline) would have found another way to expand their exports and thus expand the development of the sands, so the US’s decision was arbitrary.  However, due to the recent dip in oil prices, alternative delivery methods (train, ship, etc.) aren’t feasible as they cost more and would limit oil companies’ resources for expansion.  There is no question that expanding the pipeline would equate to more GHG emissions, and by not expanding the pipeline we as a world can avoid those consequences.

There is also no doubt that the expansion would result in more jobs and a boost in our economy, but as the price of oil is low already (and by flooding the market with more, it’s unlikely that would change any time soon), it isn’t all it was cracked up to be a few years ago.  Plus, the jobs created would not be long-term.  Obama notes that there are other options on the table for creating jobs both short-term and long-term, stating poignantly: “If congress is serious about creating jobs, this is not the way to do it.”

This decision is a part of the Obama Administration’s legacy for fighting climate change and supporting renewable energies, like the president’s Climate Action Plan and other programs and initiatives from the government. It also frames Obama and the US up as environmental leaders with the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Paris coming up later this year (November 30th through December 11th).

For more information on the Keystone XL Pipeline and the president’s decision, check out this article from the NY Times.

UT CASNR Students Headed to Finals in National Competition

After placing in the top 4 of the Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge (FBREC), a team of students from the University of Tennessee College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources (CASNR) in Knoxville, and the College of Agricultural and Applied Sciences in Martin, are moving on to the finals that will take place at the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in Orlando, Florida, this coming January. CASNR graduate students Shawn Butler and Austin Scott, and UT Martin student Daniel Wiggins developed a patent-pending technology aimed at effectively terminating cover crops to save farmers money. They entered the technology in the FBREC, which is focused on entrepreneurship aimed at helping rural communities (specifically in food and agriculture). By placing in the top four, their Farm Specific Technology (FarmSpec) received $15,000 in start-up funds, and has the opportunity to compete in the final round where they can win an additional $25,000.

With the winnings they hope to take their idea and make something out of it that not only benefits them as entrepreneurs, but also agriculture around the world.  Check out the Tennessee Today article for more information.

Dr. Forbes Walker Quoted in The Washington Post

Dr. Forbes Walker, Associate Professor of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, was recently quoted in an article in the Washington Post about the American Watershed Initiative’s grading of the Mississippi River Basin. After 700 people across 400 organizations examined the basin’s water supply, flood control, economy, transportation, recreation, and ecosystem health, the basin was awarded the dismal grade of a D+. This should be alarming to us, considering the Mississippi river basin stretches all the way from Montana to Pennsylvania, Minnesota to Louisiana, produces more than half of the United States’ goods and services, and generates a fourth of our hydropower.

Why was the grade so low? Well, the three areas deemed most in need of improvement were Transportation, Flood Control, and Water Quality. Transportation is particularly affected by the crumbling infrastructure of the lock system, which regulates water levels to help ships travel along rivers. Similarly, flood control is negatively affected by the disrepair of the basin’s levee system, combined with rising populations in flood-risk areas. Finally, water quality was found to be extremely poor due to excess nutrients, especially nitrates, which drain into the Gulf of Mexico and cause large dead zones because of Oxygen depletion.

The Gulf of Mexico may seem like a far away environment to Tennesseans, but the study found that the problem was ecosystem-wide. Thus, the solution must start upstream through reduction of fertilizers and soil erosion. Indeed, this is perhaps more important for Tennessee than anywhere else since the study ranked the Tennessee and Ohio river basin the lowest overall in terms of water quality.

“If we can control soil erosion,” Dr. Walker said, “we can make great strides in reducing the loads that are going into the rivers and thereby into the Gulf.”

Check out the original Washington Post article for more details.

UT Office of Sustainability Recognized for Innovation and Advanced Leadership

The Office of Sustainability was named a finalist in the sixth annual Second Nature Climate Leadership Awards, which aim to recognize the best environmental efforts among colleges and universities who have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) (you can find UTK’s here).

UT was recognized for innovation and advanced leadership in sustainability, climate mitigation, and resilience. Awards are given based on demonstrated advancements in innovation, embedded opportunities, and student preparedness with relation to sustainability and climate action. UT is the only school in both the state of Tennessee and the SEC that has ever been selected as a finalist.

“Having been selected as a finalist is a resounding affirmation that UT is a leader in sustainability across the nation and, in particular, within the SEC,” said UT Sustainability Manger Preston Jacobsen. “We are currently a leader in green power purchasing – ranked 11th in the nation – and ranked second in the nation for Game Day Zero Waste efforts, but our sights are set much higher.”

Since 1993, Second Nature has worked with more than 4,000 faculty and administrators at hundreds of colleges and universities to increase sustainability efforts in higher education. In 2006, 12 college and university presidents began the ACUPCC. The next year, that group invited their peers nationwide to participate. UT signed the commitment on September 11th of that year.

Second Nature initiated the Climate Leadership Awards in 2010 to recognize ACUPCC institutions for their innovation and excellence.

“We have and will continue to work toward providing our students with the best educational opportunities, be it research or experiential learning, all within a setting that supports our local environment,” Jacobsen said.

The most innovative university program to date that UTK can boast is the Smart Communities Initiative (SCI), designed to engage faculty and students in real-world problem solving aimed at increasing the economic viability, environmental sustainability, and social integrity of an area.

In addition to SCI, more than 200 courses have been identified to focus on sustainability, and the university offers a sustainability major, which launched in fall 2012. Other initiatives include the Green Revolving Fund and a student environmental initiatives fee, enabling the campus to conduct more research and sustainable projects in the future.

“This designation is not easily achieved, and it stems from the work performed not only by our office but more so by the students, faculty and staff that continue to make UT a more sustainable place to live, learn, and work,” Jacobsen said.

For more information on our office, look around the website, or contact us at sustainability@utk.edu.

New Public Park in Knoxville

Knoxville’s Legacy Parks Foundation is in the process of giving their River Bluff property to the City of Knoxville for it to be used as another public park.

Legacy Parks purchased the 70 acre plot of land back in 2009 to preserve it from development. The area rises high above the city, and according to the foundation’s executive director, Carol Evans, “to the west you can see as far as Sequoyah Hills, and to the east, the downtown skyline and even House Mountain in the distance.” The park carries a significant history, as it was home to the Civil War battle of Armstrong Hill. Evans describes the land as “historic and cultural and environmental and recreational, so it’s really a great piece of property,” and she emphasizes that the land has a lot of positive potential for the community as a public park. The City of Knoxville has a plan to add trails throughout the property in order to change it from a good location with a history into a true park for the community to enjoy.

For more information, you can check out the Legacy Parks Foundation’s article.

Energy Vampires

UT Facilities Services recently featured our own Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Cherry in their latest DIY Video on Energy Vampires! She discusses what energy vampires are and how you can avoid their drain on your wallet and the environment.

To see more videos like this, check out UT Facilities Services Youtube Channel.

Food Recovery Feature: Anagha Uppal

UT’s very own Anagha Uppal will be heading to Minneapolis next week, October 25th through 28th, to present at this year’s Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference.

Uppal is a Knoxville native and a junior here at UT. This story starts with her freshman year, when she and a friend walked into one of the university’s POD markets in the late evening and discovered the fate of the leftover food.

Shocked that so much good food could simply be thrown away, Uppal thought up a solution. Reaching out to Aramark, UT’s food supplier, she worked with them to come up with a new plan for the leftover food. As opposed to simply throwing perfectly good, albeit no longer fresh, food away, the food is now brought to a large freezer in Thompson-Boling Arena where Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee is able to pick it up and distribute it to the hungry and homeless in the local area.

“It’s been really good the past year and a half,” Uppal explains. It was at this time that she began to work with the Food Recovery Network – a national network of college students committed to fighting food waste. The UT Food Recovery Network works to facilitate the process of recovering perishable food items from dining halls, POD markets, and UT catering facilities – including working with UT Athletics to recover leftover food after football games and other sporting events.

Uppal will take her work on the road with her to Minneapolis to present at the conference. Though it is not her first time attending the AASHE Annual Conference, it will be her first time presenting. Uppal isn’t altogether nervous, however; she is grateful for the opportunity: “it’s a little intimidating, but it’s also very encouraging.” She is riding the “food movement” wave that has captured the focus at UT. “I think our campus is moving towards the food sustainability area a lot,” she remarked. Aramark’s marketing manager encouraged her to present on the program she has built over her college career, and all it has accomplished at UT.

Her work may not seem so complicated, but Uppal has made it clear that it was not an easy process. A part of her presentation focuses on the struggles that she and her partners faced when pushing the campus toward zero waste. “One of the biggest things you will hear time and time again: ‘There is a liability issue,'” – often the greatest hold up for a food handler in joining this movement is the fear that they could be held responsible if the food that they donate makes someone sick – but Uppal was able to work around this by citing law. The Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, passed in 1995, eradicates liability and protects the donors from being sued.

With any type of movement, there will be some obstacles, and Uppal is determined to push past them as far as she can for food recovery. “If you really want a zero food waste policy, you have to go through a policy point.” Uppal is pushing for UT to demand a zero food waste contract with Aramark. Her ideal end result would be for zero food waste to be enforced by a policy.

This kind of program not only benefits the Knoxville community, but it could also be beneficial to UT in pushing us toward becoming a Top 25 University.

If you want to know more about food recovery, the Food Recovery Network is always looking for volunteers. You can find them on Facebook, or you can email them at frn@utk.edu.