UGA Faculty Leads Efforts in State-Wide Campaign to Address Climate Crisis |


ATHENS – Following the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, which ended on November 12, world leaders pledged to support and implement concrete measures to combat climate change.

Closer to home, the Drawdown Georgia Project is a multi-institutional, multidisciplinary effort to accelerate progress towards net greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The state group took inspiration from Project Drawdown, a nonprofit organization “that seeks to help the world reach the ‘draw’ – the future time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will cease. to increase and will start to decrease steadily. “

Sudhagar Mani, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology, University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and Professor at UGA College of Engineering, led the Food and Agricultural System Working Group for Phase 1 of Drawdown Georgia, which ended in May. The objective of phase 1 was to filter the 100 most important solutions of the Drawdown project through the prism of the Georgian economy and to identify carbon reduction technologies and practices in a range of sectors that are suitable. best for adoption in Georgia.

“Food and the farming system is a prominent sector in the overall Drawdown project; I think the food and agricultural system has the greatest potential for reducing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, ”said Mani, who has a background in agricultural, dairy and food engineering, as well as chemical engineering. and organic. “I did part of the life cycle analysis for carbon reduction for energy systems, basically using bioenergy systems from crops that could be grown on agricultural land and how we can use the residues. (such as cotton stalks and peanut shells) for energy.

Throughout the first phase of the project, Mani and other experts from Drawdown Georgia worked to identify the most significant solutions for the state, including existing and affordable technologies that could have a significant impact on reducing the burden. carbon while providing benefits such as job growth, improved air and water quality, and public health protection.

“Reducing food waste is a leading solution both globally and in the United States,” said Mani. “There are several estimates, including the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, that approximately 55 million tonnes of food is wasted each year. Although a fraction of food waste is diverted to anaerobic digestion and composting facilities, a significant fraction of food waste, including other organic waste, goes to landfills.

Now, in the second phase of Drawdown Georgia, sector-oriented working groups – including power, transport, forestry and food and agriculture – are assembling the information needed to demonstrate the carbon emissions benchmark. in every county in Georgia.

Jeff Mullen, associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics at CAES, works with William Drummond, associate director of the Georgia Tech Center for Geographic Information Systems, to analyze state-wide data on emissions and waste food.

“Ideally what we want to do is track the evolution of emissions at the county level through the 2020s, through 2030, based on the actions taken to reduce carbon emissions in the state. , broken down by each of those sectors, ”Mullen said.

Drummond collects the baseline data for 2020 emissions and develops the methodology for tracking emissions year by year, while Mullen focuses on the state’s composting capacity, one of the solutions proposed in the first phase.

On campus, Mullen and his team will benchmark costs by examining the price of using petroleum-based catering items versus the cost of switching to compostable products at the UGA Center for Continuing Education & Hotel. Statewide, the team is working with Georgia’s public school systems to calculate what they are spending on food service and delivery activities and how that would compare to the cost of adopting compostable products and systems. composting.

The team is also in the process of creating a state-wide map of current composting facilities in Georgia that will include information on capacity, types of materials accepted, and tipping charges for materials brought in for the. composting to compare them to the current costs of waste management in the state’s public school systems.

“Comparing the costs of purchasing different materials and the cost of disposing of the materials will help determine if composting is more or less expensive,” Mullen said. “We expect composting to be more expensive, but by establishing statewide composting infrastructure we may be able to reduce costs to such an extent that they are competitive with current systems.”

The Phase 2 analysis could lead to increasing the capacity of existing composting sites and locating potential new commercial composting sites statewide, he added. The project will include a transport cost study comparing the current costs of waste disposal with the potential costs of setting up composting systems.

“At the moment, we need information on the existing throughput of these systems,” said Mullen. “How much do we have to get rid of? And how much will it cost to haul waste from schools to composting sites compared to schools to landfills?”

The project will also examine the feasibility of establishing “point of consumption” composting sites.

“A college or high school could have a school garden, which could offer the possibility of establishing a composting area on the school grounds to eliminate disposal costs and provide a contribution for the school garden. or grounds maintenance activities, ”Mullen said.

The next part of the project is to perform a life cycle analysis by comparing the carbon emissions from current non-compostable food waste streams to potential compostable food waste streams, including all factors from packaging to transportation and more. costs.

“If you have 100% compostable from a catering facility, it’s all going one way, towards a composting facility,” Mullen said. “If you don’t have any compostable products or if you don’t separate them. not, then everything is going in another direction, to the dump. Then it is possible to separate these two elements and have two different elimination streams. This is the purpose of Phase 2, to map the food waste stream with public schools to determine how much goes through the food system and how much is compostable versus what is not.

While some waste of inedible portions of food is inevitable, better education on composting and municipal composting programs could help alleviate much of the waste. Mani lives in Athens-Clarke County, where the municipal government now offers a compostable material drop-off service, but there is still no widespread availability of large commercial composting facilities statewide.

“We have to increase this capacity,” he said. “We have 159 counties in the state of Georgia, and every county should have at least one public composting facility that can handle much of this waste generated in their counties. Then that material should be composted and returned to our land. agricultural systems to improve and regenerate our agricultural systems. “

Like community gardens, Mani suggested that neighborhoods or communities adopt a community composting program and educate members on proper composting to make up for the 2 million tonnes of garden waste that is thrown away each year in Georgia.

Tree prunings and other organic garden waste are estimated to account for 2 million tonnes of waste per year in Georgia, the majority of which is not composted. Like community gardens, Mani suggested that neighborhoods or communities could adopt a community composting program and educate members on proper composting.

“Businesses and businesses can adapt composting as part of the business cycle,” added Mani. “UGA is a good example of composting with facilities at the university’s bioconversion center, and we could be a model for other institutions to adapt. We have approximately 52 four-year colleges and universities in the state of Georgia. , and each of them should have at least one or two composting facilities. Every county has a public school system, and every system should have at least one. “

Mullen is also interested in the social and educational impact of setting up composting systems in public schools.

“I think it’s fascinating to consider starting this at the level of the public school system,” Mullen said. “If this becomes part of the school culture, it could become a part of the routine of these students’ lives long after they graduate. At least it’s something they will think about on a daily basis. Even. if they can’t do it all the time, they are aware, familiar and comfortable with it. Ultimately our goal is to divert as much trash as possible from landfills. “

Work on Phase 2 of the Drawdown Georgia projects is expected to be completed in March 2022. Plans for Phase 3 of the project, which would involve the implementation of the sought-after solutions, are dependent on future funding for the initiative. Funding for the project was provided by the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Incorporating thoughtful practices into our daily lives is a small step towards making a bigger difference.

“Food is a basic need in our life,” said Mani. “We cannot ignore it or not think about our food and where it comes from. There is a certain level of responsibility that every human being has to take on. We really should have institutional change, but we have to have a combination of. solutions to truly achieve the ultimate goal. ”


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