Tracking the Food Recovery Challenge with U.S. EPA’s Julie Schilf

September 25, 2015

John Shegerian: Welcome to another edition of Green Is Good. This is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good and we are so honored to have with us here in downtown Chicago Julie Schilf. She is from the EPA. She is an environmental scientist. Welcome to Green Is Good, Julie. Julie Schilf: Thank you for having me. John Shegerian: Julie, before we get talking about food recovery and sports arenas and the reasons why you are here today, talk a little bit about the Julie Schilf story, and how did you end up at the EPA? Julie Schilf: Well, I originally interned there. I was a cartographer. I started out by making maps. And a position opened up in the sustainable and materials management branch of the land and chemicals division, and I applied because I was interning, so I took the first available position to open. And this recycling and materials management gelled with my background because I spent a lot of time actually on tour with the band Phish picking up recycling in the parking lots after shows. John Shegerian: Really? Julie Schilf: With Green Crew. That is correct. John Shegerian: So wait a second now. Before we start talking about the EPA and all the great work you’re doing there with regards to the GSA – so you went to college. Julie Schilf: I was going to college, yes. John Shegerian: And what did you study in college? Julie Schilf: I studied environmental policy. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: And I have a Master’s in Public Administration. John Shegerian: So you were really interested in the environment even back in your college days. Julie Schilf: Well, actually, I was going to college, while I was interning at the EPA. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: I didn’t go to college ‘til later on. John Shegerian: So then talk a little bit about your relationship with the band Phish and what you were doing with Phish. Julie Schilf: Well, it was a big group of people, and what they really did was wanted to – they didn’t necessarily work for the band. It’s an all-volunteer group and they picked up recyclables in the lots after shows. John Shegerian: So cool. Julie Schilf: The group really helped. You don’t work against a lot of the rabble that the band and sometimes its followers get. John Shegerian: Right. And was this – did you travel with them nationally or was this locally, or where was? Julie Schilf: Well, it’s pretty much on your own thing. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: So I have travelled across the country. John Shegerian: Cool. Julie Schilf: From Southern California all the way to Maine. John Shegerian: That’s awesome. Julie Schilf: Yeah. John Shegerian: That is awesome. Julie Schilf: So that really is how I got my interest in recycling. John Shegerian: Right. That’s a wonderful way. Julie Schilf: Yeah. It was great. John Shegerian: So then how many years ago did you join the EPA? Julie Schilf: I joined the EPA in 2005, so about 10 years ago. I interned for four years for the Oakridge Institute for Science and Education. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: Then I was hired on about six years ago. John Shegerian: And you work in the Illinois area. The EPA. Julie Schilf: That is correct. Our offices here in Chicago. John Shegerian: In Chicago. And so for our listeners and our viewers out there that want to learn more about all the great work the EPA is doing in this area, they can go to www.EPA.gov/foodrecovery. Julie Schilf: Well, that is for the Food Recovery Challenge, which we are going to talk about in a moment. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: If they want to know more about region five and our office here in Chicago, they can go to www.EPA.gov/region5. John Shegerian: Perfect. Got it. And for all our listeners and viewers out there that want to learn more about the great Green Sports Alliance, which is the reason why we are here today, they can go to www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Julie, talk a little bit about what – as an environmental scientist – are you tasked with doing on a day-to-day basis? Before we get talking about GSA – what is your job, generally speaking, on a macro basis at the EPA? Julie Schilf: On a day-to-day basis, I primarily work with Food Recovery Challenge and WasteWise participants and their data in our Re-TRAC waste management system. John Shegerian: Got you. And does that have to do with composting and everything that is going on? Julie Schilf: You can report composting. The system – actually, a lot of the states across the country belong to their system and that is where they report a lot of their waste characterization data, which helps us then create our overall national waste characterization report. John Shegerian: Got you. Is composting going to become – in your mind – one of the biggest food recycling? Is that going to become one of the biggest trends that continue to grow here in the United States? What are your thoughts on that? Julie Schilf: I hope so. It’s because it’s easy and it’s easy to teach kids how to compost and for people to do it. Although, what I really like to focus on is really work up that chain and focus on reducing your waste for starters. John Shegerian: Great point. Julie Schilf: And then donating. John Shegerian: Great point. Before we even get to the composting. Julie Schilf: Before you recycle something. Yeah. John Shegerian: So you want to even intermediate – before we get the composting, there are other great things that can be going on. Julie Schilf: That is correct. The food recovery hierarchy will show you: At the top, always reduce first and then feed people second. That is very important. John Shegerian: That is really great. Julie Schilf: And then feed animals. A lot of wasted food can go to feed animals. John Shegerian: Great point. Julie Schilf: And then compost. John Shegerian: Let’s talk about why you are here today. So what are you doing here? How did you learn about the GSA, Julie, and how did you get involved? Julie Schilf: Well, the EPA previously had an MOU with GSA. John Shegerian: OK. Julie Schilf: They signed that a few years ago when the summit was in Seattle. John Shegerian: OK. Julie Schilf: So this is really primarily a program out of headquarters. John Shegerian: OK. Julie Schilf: But I – in region five here – work with a lot of sport venues and stadiums with their organics programs. John Shegerian: Explain what that means. Julie Schilf: They are part of the Food Recovery Challenge. They report to me and to the Re-TRAC system, like I mentioned before. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: Their activities and programs that they’ve implemented, they’ve reported their numbers – so whatever they’ve donated, whatever they’ve composted and whatever they’ve reduced. John Shegerian: So you help synthesize that and also aggregate that information. Julie Schilf: I do. Then a big point of the Food Recovery Challenge program is to help publicize their efforts. Not only do we facilitate information across the United States with other venues so they can share their activities. John Shegerian: Great point. Julie Schilf: But we can publicize their efforts for them. John Shegerian: Wow. That’s great. So how is that going by the way? Is that a growing trend what you’re seeing working with these arenas and these public areas and public venues? Are they all increasing their efforts with regards to food? Julie Schilf: Yeah. It’s awesome. I mean, look at all the people here today. We have a session at 2:15 on the organics MVPs of the Great Lakes region. We have the Cleveland Browns, we have Minnesota Wild and Xcel Energy Center, we have Rock and Wrap It Up and we have this venue right here – McCormick Place – speaking during the session today. John Shegerian: Really? Julie Schilf: On food recovery. Yeah. John Shegerian: So this food recovery is really a fast growing trend that you’re seeing. Julie Schilf: It is. We put out these municipal cell waste characterization reports, and we are seeing a trend that food is the biggest material generated and yet the least recovered, so all this food – 34 million tons – is ending up in our landfills. John Shegerian: Well, let’s step back. So historically, food – if it wasn’t intermediated before composting as you pointed out, and if it never went to composting, then all this excess food historically went to landfills. Julie Schilf: It’s going to landfills and it’s- John Shegerian: Needlessly filling them up. Julie Schilf: Yep. And it’s a problem. It affects our society, it affects our environment and it affects our economy. John Shegerian: And no need for this to be going on is what you’re saying. Julie Schilf: Correct. John Shegerian: If handled appropriately, and if people like you get education out to these arenas and public venues- Julie Schilf: Exactly. John Shegerian: Massive change can happen on a national and international basis. Julie Schilf: Hopefully. And with the help of the Green Sports Alliance and the NRDC ,who does a lot of the reports – they recently estimated that an American family wastes about $1600 a year just in wasted food. John Shegerian: On a micro basis. So families can even be- Julie Schilf: Families can even do their part, and it’s really at that level where we need to start education. John Shegerian: So I come to you, and I’m running an arena and I heard that others are doing great work. Walk our listeners and our viewers through what would be a coaching session by you on how to get involved, how to really make change on a larger level with a public venue. Julie Schilf: Well, what I would do first as a federal government employee- John Shegerian: Yeah. Julie Schilf: I am not – I can’t promote one business over another. John Shegerian: Correct. Julie Schilf: That is not fair. But what I would do is connect you with – say, for example, you are here in Chicago – I would connect you with a local group that recently formed called the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition. John Shegerian: OK. Julie Schilf: And they are at www.IllinoisCompost.org, and the group is made up of a number of people from all different kinds of stakeholders – haulers, generators, grocery stores, local solid waste districts, people from all over, universities here in Chicago, All-State Arena, venues. So many people make up that group, and I would send you to them. I would send you to that group, and they can then help you find the resources you need to divert your wasted food. John Shegerian: I see. Julie Schilf: Or donate, hopefully. John Shegerian: Got you. So you’d have me start working with a local group. Whoever is local to my venue. Julie Schilf: Correct. Yeah. John Shegerian: Got you. Then we’d start measuring what we’re doing with them. Julie Schilf: Always measure. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. You were just talking about that with Jackie before. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: You can’t manage what you don’t measure, and you need to start somewhere so benchmarking – especially for Food Recovery Challenge – is really important. You can’t set goals for yourself if you don’t even know where you’re starting. John Shegerian: So explain what you mean by benchmarking, and then do you leverage technology to do this? Do you have software? Julie Schilf: If you join the Food Recovery Challenge, we have that program I mentioned before – Re-TRAC. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: You have free access to that program and that allows you to track your data annually. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: And it also will help you develop a report so you can share with your stakeholders what you are doing. For example, the greenhouse gas equivalencies. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: Like I was saying before, you can share – let’s say, for example, you donated X number of tons of food. John Shegerian: Sure. Julie Schilf: And that is the equivalent to emissions from X number of cars a year. John Shegerian: Right. For our listeners and viewers who have just joined us, we’ve got Julie Schilf with us. She is an Environmental Scientist at the EPA. To learn more about what’s going on at the EPA, you can go to www.EPA.gov. If you want to learn more about Food Recovery Network and everything that she is doing with regards to food recovery, it’s www.EPA.gov/foodrecovery. And this is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good. Please check out all the great work Green Sports Alliance is doing at www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. So explain from the beginning, Re-TRAC. How many years ago did that launch, and what is it actually you are trying to accomplish with Re-TRAC? Julie Schilf: Re-TRAC really isn’t an EPA program. John Shegerian: OK. Julie Schilf: It’s a contractor’s program. John Shegerian: Oh, I got you. Julie Schilf: But a lot of the states use it to enter – like I said before – their state waste data. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: We also use it for Game Day Challenge. A lot of the universities use it. There are many programs in Re-TRAC that you can use to manage and track your waste information. John Shegerian: Got you. And for our listeners and viewers that want to check out what Re-TRAC is, it’s www.Re-TRAC.com. Got you. So talk a little bit about what you’re going to be talking about here today at the GSA on your panel, and what are your goals today with regards to the Green Sports Alliance and goals in the future. Julie Schilf: Well, I’m really glad the summit is here in Chicago because here in the Midwest we lack the composting infrastructure that – say – the East Coast and West Coast have. John Shegerian: Really? Julie Schilf: So I feel like we’re behind, and a lot of people might think of that as a negative thing, but I think it’s great because we can now learn from the West Coat and East Coast. We can learn from their mistakes as we move forward. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: So, hopefully, today we’re going to learn how some of the venues that I mentioned earlier are diverting their food waste with the challenges that we’re facing here in the Midwest. John Shegerian: Got you. And when you study what is going on on the east and west coasts and what is going on in the Midwest how much catching up do you have to do? How long do you think it will take, and what do you think is about? Julie Schilf: I have no idea. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: But I hear Allen saying earlier, when he was speaking earlier today, about how this is really up to the private sector, and while here as a federal government employee, I’m going to help facilitate that information across the private sector. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: So we really need haulers to step up. We need more facilities in Illinois. And the benefits are there will be more jobs. We will have more compost, which is a nutrient rich soil amendment. John Shegerian: The constituents – the people who live here in the great state of Illinois – are they excited about composting, and do you see change with regards to that? Julie Schilf: I do. I see change. I see it happening in our state legislature and, with thanks to the group I was saying earlier – the Illinois Food Scrap Coalition – they are really pushing that forward. John Shegerian: Other environmental scientists that work with the EPA and food recovery across America, do you all exchange information? Julie Schilf: We do. We have meetings every other week. John Shegerian: Wow. Julie Schilf: We talk on conference calls every other week. We’re One EPA. John Shegerian: Right. Julie Schilf: So we like to act as one. John Shegerian: What are the greatest messages that you want your audience to hear today during your remarks on your panel today? Julie Schilf: I want people to know that most of the food that you come in contact with every day – or don’t – is not really waste at all. It’s not food waste. I don’t like to refer to it as “food waste” because it’s not waste. It is wholesome edible food that could be either donated or composted, and I think that is really important for people to know and to think about. John Shegerian: And throwing away food is really something of the past. People shouldn’t – whether you’re on a macro basis – if you’re managing an arena – or on a micro basis -if you’re managing your household – that’s really not the way to go anymore. Julie Schilf: No. I think the trend is going to catch on and it’s going to catch on quickly. John Shegerian: I’ll leave you with the final thoughts today, Julie. We are so thankful you came on the show. What would you like to leave our listeners and our viewers with before we have to sign off today? Julie Schilf: Buy what you need. John Shegerian: I like that. Julie Schilf: Eat what you buy. John Shegerian: I like that. Julie Schilf: Store fruits and vegetables smarter. John Shegerian: Interesting. Right. Julie Schilf: Yeah. John Shegerian: And when you say “smarter,” what do you mean by “smarter?” Julie Schilf: We actually have developed a storage guide that can help consumers at the household and consumer level really understand how to better store their food so it doesn’t go bad faster. John Shegerian: Got you. And where can our listeners and viewers see that? Julie Schilf: At that webpage there. At www.EPA.gov/foodrecovery. John Shegerian: Got you. Julie Schilf: OK. John Shegerian: Great, Julie. It’s been an honor to have you on today. Julie Schilf: Thank you for having me. John Shegerian: For all our listeners and viewers out there, thank you for joining this edition with Julie Schilf, the environmental scientist really working on food recovery at the local EPA here in Illinois. And again, this is the Green Sports Alliance edition of Green Is Good. You can learn more about Green Sports Alliance at www.GreenSportsAlliance.org. Julie Schilf, you are truly living proof that Green is Good. Julie Schilf: Thank you. John Shegerian: Thank you so much.