You probably throw out more food than you realize. Food waste makes up 21.6 percent of municipal waste, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“This is not a good use of landfill space,” said Michael Chajes, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and co-chair of the University of Delaware’s Sustainability Task Force. “There are better things to do with this waste.”

The question is — what are they? A team of civil and environmental engineers is partnering with the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) to study the composition of food waste that has been partially broken down in a digester machine. This insight could help them implement strategies to reduce the volume of food waste in Delaware’s landfills.

DSWA is charged with managing waste and recyclables throughout the state, and the agency operates three landfills — one in each of Delaware’s counties.

“Part of our mission is to increase diversion from the landfills,” said Robin Roddy, DSWA’s chief operating officer.

Roddy, who received a master’s degree in civil engineering at UD, knew that UD civil and environmental engineers had the ideal expertise to tackle the problem of food waste in landfills. What’s more, UD was already ahead of the curve in approaching the problem itself. The Caesar Rodney Dining Complex has two BioHiTech digesters, which use a proprietary mix of microorganisms to transform pieces of unwanted food  — bread crusts, milk at the bottom of the cereal bowls, whatever students leave behind — into liquid waste. All the pieces were in place for a partnership.

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