Sustainability is more than a buzz word with Texas A&M University Dining, which partners with Terrabon, Inc. to collect post- consumer food scraps from the two biggest dining centers on campus for use in producing biofuels.
Terrabon will produce the biofuels by means of a process called MixAlco technology. In true Aggie fashion, Mark Holtzapple, professor of engineering at Texas A&M, developed the MixAlco technology that makes the process possible.
Terrabon has been a decade-long sponsor of research with Texas A&M's Department of Chemical Engineering and the Texas Engineering Experiment Station, and the company has a license agreement with The Texas A&M University System to commercialize biofuel technology developed at the university, notes David Riddle, executive director for University Dining at Texas A&M.
"As director for licensing at the System's Office of Technology Commercialization, I had the opportunity to negotiate the license agreement with Terrabon for the commercialization of the MixAlco technology," Riddle says. "In my role now with University Dining, I saw an opportunity to help further the commercialization of the technology by providing it with a critical raw input, food waste. It's a cycle that benefits dining today through a reduction in costs associated with sending waste to the landfill, and has the potential to facilitate commercialization of a technology that the Texas A&M System has a vested interest in."
The food waste is collected and stored in 55 gallon drums; Terrabon picks it up at no cost to the department and delivers it to its facility in Bryan. Currently, approximately 20 to 30 tons is recycled from University Dining per month, Riddle adds.
Officials with University Dining say they are committed to implementing and maintaining sustainability in all aspects of the dining operation. Efforts range from utilizing organic and locally grown foods to the recycling of cardboard and cooking oil. While that might be considered by most as doing enough to say they are going "green," University Dining continues to look for better ways to make dining on campus even greener.
"It's about operational efficiencies," states Riddle. "We look for ways to streamline our process at all levels, from how we prepare our food to the way we dispose of our waste."
The Underground Food Court, an area in the Sbisa complex with several food concepts ranging from barbecue and burgers to Chick-fil-A, has a new recycling pilot program this week. It will be the first University Dining unit to operate with 100 percent compostable and recyclable goods. Riddle says Dining Unit Manager Debbie Sherman and Facilities Manager Ernest Box have worked diligently the last several months with Brazos Valley Recycling to develop the program. In addition, dining has partnered with the Student Government Association's Environmental Issues Committee (EIC) student group to help make students more aware of the recycling process.
"We want to help educate students on efforts University Dining has in place for recycling," says Jasdeep Sandhu, Environmental Issues Committee chair. "We are always looking for opportunities to reach out and provide an impact in the community."
Riddle says this is only the beginning.
"Once we have established -- from our pilot program at the Underground Food Court -- that these are the proper packaging materials and created a process for customers to easily identify what waste goes in which containers, we will roll out the program to more locations. However, serving food in compostable or biodegradable packaging doesn't help the environment if you put it in a plastic bag and send it to the landfill. The waste has to be captured and disposed of properly to have the full impact. Anyone can switch their disposables to compostable or biodegradable products; the real challenge is capturing it and making sure it's recycled or composted."
Additional sustainability efforts by dining include all of the facilities cooking with zero trans fat oils and then taking the used cooking oil and recycling it into bio-diesel fuel, which is then used to power the department's delivery truck.
The Herb Project, a joint project of the Holistic Teaching Garden at Texas A&M -- a student-run sustainable farm -- allows University Dining to buy fresh fruit and vegetables whenever they are available. What the Holistic Garden can't provide is purchased from Scarmardo Produce, a local vendor that utilizes organically grown and local sources as an essential part of their product mix.
Fair Trade coffees are offered at all locations across campus and currently, Poor Yorick's recycles its daily coffee grounds, which are composted and reproduced as fertilizer.
Dining also participates in the cardboard and white paper recycling programs offered by the university. There are also aluminum can recycling receptacles placed in and around various dining facilities. Something new is the Pepsi Dream Machine that collects aluminum and plastic. There is currently one located outside Time Out Sports Deli.
A combination of sustainability efforts by University Dining and the efforts of students, faculty and staff are responsible for The Princeton Review recognizing Texas A&M as one of the nation's most environmentally responsible colleges last April, says Kelly Wellman, who heads green initiatives at Texas A&M. Wellman, whose title is "sustainability officer" in the Division of Operations, says sustainability is most commonly defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.