“I don’t even know how to describe 1,000 gallons of mayonnaise.”
After 500 individual 2.5 gallon containers of mayonnaise were compromised by freezing temperatures and unusable to the university, sustainability officers and MSU Food Stores worked together to divert all of the waste into energy to power on-campus buildings.
Matt Rodewald of the MSU Food Stores said they received a standard shipment of mayo, stocked it into the inventory and ultimately noticed the faulty product after students in the cafeterias complained.
Typically, when unusable product is collected, MSU Food Stores turns to donate it to the Greater Lansing Food Bank, he said. But this was more than 1,000 gallons and too large of a quantity for the food bank to accept.
Rodewald reached out to Carla Iansiti, a Residential and Hospitality Services Sustainability officer, to see what options they had.
“When Matt called me and said that the product had been compromised, and that amount of weight, I couldn’t justify just throwing it away,” Iansiti said.
She explained that as an officer for sustainability, she had to figure out how to utilize the resources she had to make a little bit of a good thing.
The solution was to feed the mayonnaise to the anaerobic digester.
MSU Culinary Services Sustainability Officer Cole Gude came to Iansiti’s aid and facilitated throughout the day.
“The decision was actually fairly easy,” Gude said. “It was a perfect situation to turn what could have been a catastrophe into something positive for the university.”
The anaerobic digester thrives on foods high in sugars and fats, which is exactly what mayonnaise is, Gude said.
The project was completed on Dec. 2, 2016. The first step in the roughly eight-hour day was to empty each individual mayonnaise container into the dumpster. Next, the semi-empty containers were transported to the Hubbard Hall kitchen, which has been offline all year and was easy to invade. Each container had to be rinsed out with water to clear them of all the product.
“Mayonnaise was getting all over, some carpet was getting smeared and we all had dress clothes on,” Iansiti said. “This was not anticipated at all.”
Between phone calls and know-how, Iansiti worked with her team to figure out to carry out the daunting task at hand without having to pay for a lot of labor.
She said despite the amount of labor, water and energy used to clean the jars out, it still felt good that they were able to carry out the task.
The anaerobic digester, which helps to power several farm areas on the southern end of campus, goes through thousands of tons of waste every year and MSU only contributes a fraction of what it processes, Gude said.
“It felt really good though,” Gude said. “It’s one of those things of sustainability where you have this horrible situation and, because of the technology we have and the driven people we have at MSU, we have the ability to turn it into something good.”