Food Stores, Surplus Connect to Feed the Anaerobic Digester

Published On: February 22, 2017

By Cole Gude

On the morning of Dec. 2, 500 2.5 gallon jugs of mayonnaise arrived to Michigan State University (MSU) compromised due to freezing temperatures on the delivery truck. This caused the mayonnaise components to separate making it unusable by MSU standards. A question quickly surfaced: What do you do with more than 1,000 gallons of ruined mayo? It could have just been thrown away, but that goes against MSU’s commitment to sustainability. Instead, MSU Food Stores' Matt Rodewald decided to invoke one of MSU's core values — connectivity. Matt contacted MSU Sustainability Officer Carla Iansiti to ask if it would be possible to send the ruined mayo to MSU’s anaerobic digester. This was the perfect solution, as the anaerobic digester converts food and farm waste into energy that is used on campus. The best sources of energy are fats and sugars, which is exactly what mayonnaise is.

Carla knew that her department could not handle the full task of recycling so many containers by themselves, so she contacted Sean Barton at the MSU Surplus and Recycling Center to ask for help. Sean was able to pull together volunteers from MSU Recycling and Surplus who spent more than two hours dumping 500 containers into a 20-yard food waste dumpster.

The next step was deciding how to rinse any residual mayo out of the containers so the plastic could also be recycled. Carla contacted Brenda Nelson, Dining Manager of East Neighborhood, to ask if Hubbard’s industrial dishwasher could be used to expedite the process. Once the dishwasher was deemed available, REHS team members Robin Daugherty and Tom Roy helped bring all five pallets of mayo containers up to the dish room. It took four RHS Sustainability team members five hours to rinse and then wash the 500 containers as well as flatten the cardboard boxes the mayo arrived in.

Overall, the day was a massive collaborative win for MSU. The university was able to keep nearly 1,700 pounds of waste out of landfills by sending the mayonnaise to the anaerobic digester and recycling the plastic containers and cardboard boxes.

Sustainability is often messy work, but MSU is committed to protecting the environment. Sometimes that commitment means spending the day recycling mayonnaise, sometimes it means looking at the way residence halls are cleaned to see if less harmful cleaning supplies are available. These small wins add up to make a big difference.

Who will protect the environment? Spartans Will.