Sustainability students will show how to turn food scraps into soap and out of landfills

GIS exhibit part of program’s ‘From Wasting to Making’ theme at Imagine RIT

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For anyone who has ever been told you had to clean your plate before leaving the table, here’s a chance to show mom or dad that you can put food waste to good use and help save the planet at the same time.

“Washing Hands with Food Waste,” an exhibit sponsored by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) at the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival on May 7, will demonstrate a unique twist on recycling food. The display will feature natural soaps produced from food waste as a way to demonstrate how the recycling of discarded food items can be turned into useful household products.

“Sustainability is a broad topic, but everything boils down to one key point: our behavior and its huge impact on nature,” said Naga Srujana Goteti, a first-year Ph.D. sustainability student from India. “We want to convey that we must take advantage of every ounce of food because it is there in your refrigerator after a long journey carried by water, fossil fuels and labor.”

Goteti noted that this GIS exhibit is a twist on a previous Imagine RIT booth showcasing how a by-product from the bio-diesel process—namely glycerin—could be used for making soaps. “In our booth we are trying to show how everyday food waste such as ground coffee can still be extended and used for other purposes such as soap making,” she said.

Goteti said there’s even a “recipe” for the soap, including used coffee grounds, a sodium hydroxide mixture, water, coconut and other oils, powdered milk (optional) and glycerin—plenty of which is available as a by-product in the GIS building’s fuel cell lab.

Coffee grounds provide a pleasing aroma, according to the GIS student, along with a scrubbing effect on the skin and an appealing dark shade to replace soap’s artificial colors.

“We estimated the ingredients at first, but came up with more exact measurements after our first batch,” she admitted.

The exhibit inside the atrium of the 84,000-square-foot “living lab” will be in tune with the overall GIS theme, “From Wasting to Making,” at this year’s Imagine RIT festival.

Goteti said she and her fellow GIS students, along with the program’s faculty and staff, hope the exhibit will convince people to think twice before simply tossing food away.

“We often ignore the environmental impacts of trashed leftovers piling up in the landfills,” said Goteti, who plans to work on issues related to energy access and on clean energy technologies in Asia after graduation. “Can we reduce or recycle our food waste, which we otherwise take for granted when it magically appears before us?

Goteti believes the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“Soap making is an easy and fun process that can be implemented at the household level, encouraging people to take back with them the idea that recycling can be exciting, environmentally friendly and even cost saving,” she said.

Goteti wants to make people understand that buying resources responsibly and using them completely is vital to the Earth moving forward.

“If our collective behavior can destroy nature, our collective behavior can also save nature,” she said.