Unity students tackle statewide food waste challenge
Unity College is sending a team of students to the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge to find innovative ways to divert discarded food to feed the hungry.
Seven teams with a total of 24 students will participate in the challenge, Saturday and Sunday at Bowdoin College, answering the question: “How might we reduce, recover or recycle food waste, pre- and post-consumption?”
On Saturday, students will spend a full day fine-tuning proposals, utilizing advisers for feedback and advice. Teams will pitch to a panel of judges Sunday morning, evaluated on their proposals’ value proposition, originality, impact, sustainability, and overall presentation.
The competition will be live streamed. Interested parties can also follow the proceedings on Twitter. Winners will be announced Sunday afternoon; the top three teams will receive cash prizes to implement their ideas, including a $3,000 top prize.
“Unity students care about learning all sides of an issue, obtaining scientific evidence for their hypotheses, and synthesizing information to arrive at real solutions to real problems,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury. “I’m so proud Unity students are engaging with their peers at other institutions around Maine to arrive at fact-based solutions to this very immediate and important sustainability challenge.”
The Unity College team is Briana Johnson ‘17, a Captive Wildlife Care and Education major from Pawtucket, R.I.; Larissa Rivera-Butler ‘18, a Wildlife Biology major from Newcastle, Del.; Austin Larney ‘17, a Conservation Law Enforcement major from Hopkinton, R.I.; Caitlyn “Sadie” Moore ‘18, a Captive Wildlife Care and Education major from Portland, Maine; and Zahrra Jordon ‘17, an Adventure Therapy major from Beverly, Mass. Students representing Bowdoin, Colby, and Saint Joseph’s colleges and College of the Atlantic also will compete.
Unity College recently was listed among the Top 10 colleges nationally in two important sustainability categories — No. 10 for Food and No. 5 for Academics — on Sierra magazine’s latest list of “Cool Schools.”
Unity College Chief Sustainability Officer Jennifer deHart said Unity’s Maine Food System Innovation Challenge team will spend the weekend developing products, processes, and services that reduce food waste in a selected aspect of the food system.
“Participating in the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge shows Unity College students are eager to invest significant time and energy to implement smart environmental solutions today — even before they graduate,” she said.
DeHart said that, after researching the options with students, Unity College Dining Services recently established a partnership with Agri-Cycle to deliver food waste from the college to an $8 million digestion facility in Exeter, Maine. Agri-Cycle takes all the college’s food service waste and converts it to methane gas to generate energy in a 1-megawatt power plant, deHart said.
“Diverting food from the landfill reduces our waste footprint and turns what we used to consider ‘waste’ into a valuable alternative energy resource,” she said.
DeHart estimates the partnership may divert up to 10 tons of organic matter from the landfill each year, and that reducing food waste can create economic opportunity, conserve water, reduce greenhouse gases, and eradicate food insecurity and hunger.
“This is a problem in search of an immediate solution and, given our success in tackling this problem on campus, I would not bet against Unity College students,” Khoury said.