Creating a Sustainable Food Waste Management Ecosystem, with Prof. Callie Babbitt, RIT
Food waste is a critical sustainability challenge at the food, energy, and water nexus: vast energy and water resources are consumed in food production, but due to inefficiencies at each stage in its supply chain, about 40% of food will never reach human consumption. In the United States, food waste is typically landfilled, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions, economic costs, and social losses. Circular economy offers a portfolio of solutions to transform this linear food system into one that retains value, recovers resources, and reduces systemic sustainability impacts.
However, these solutions face barriers to widespread adoption, particularly due to complex and poorly-understood interactions between food, energy, and water systems. For example, food waste treatment via anaerobic digestion can generate biogas used for fuel or electricity, but economic viability depends on food waste feedstocks, regionally-variable tipping fees, electricity prices, and state-level renewable energy and climate policy. Anaerobic digestion also produces byproducts, including a nutrient rich digestate that may be beneficially used for agriculture or require extra cost for treatment required by water pollution standards.
Our research studies how to leverage these interactions to create sustainable food waste “ecosystems.” We first examine the role of firms, consumers, technology, system design, and policy as enablers of wasted food management at different scales and under different geospatial constraints and then evaluate potential interventions in terms of their benefits and trade-offs. This presentation will overview some representative examples of sustainable food waste solutions using a case study of New York State, and in particular, the urban-rural linkage between Rochester, NY and the surrounding Finger Lakes region.
Dr. Callie Babbitt is an Associate Professor in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at Rochester Institute of Technology. She directs an interdisciplinary research team who studies sustainability challenges and solutions for emerging and rapidly evolving technologies, including consumer electronics, lithium-ion batteries, electric vehicles, nanomaterials, renewable energy, and food waste management systems. Callie is a Fulbright U.S. Scholar and a recipient of the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Award and the AT&T Technology and Environment Award. She has a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from University of Florida.