A person using their hands to scoop up fresh compost mixed with soil

University of Tennessee Receives FFAR Grant to Help Address Food Waste Challenges

Generating Urban Food Systems Solutions

Program Contact

Dr. John Reich

Dr. Chad Hellwinckel

University of Tennessee

Year Awarded   2021

FFAR award amount   $308,171

Total award amount   $616,378

Location   Knoxville, TN

Program   Seeding Solutions

Matching Funders   Metro Nashville, Resource Capture, UT and Urban Green Lab

  • Urban Food Systems

Nearly one-third of landfill waste consists of food waste matter that could be redirected to alternative waste reduction methods, such as composting.

However, addressing food waste reduction presents communities, especially cities, with significant challenges related to policy, technology and cost-effectiveness. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UT) will develop and execute a food waste Decision Support System (DSS), enabling city planners to easily evaluate innovative waste reduction solutions and technologies.

Why this research is important

Communities are increasingly interested in removing food waste from the waste stream. Landfills are quickly running out of space and at current rates will be full in less than ten years. Thirty percent of landfill waste is organic matter that could be redirected and composted. Organic matter left to decompose in landfills generates methane gas, increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Initiating composting policies presents challenges related to system scale, methods of collection, various composting technologies, cost-effectiveness and other financial considerations.

Landfill waste creates many problems around land use, health and environmental concerns, especially in urban areas. This research is making it easier for communities to cut down landfill waste and reuse a significant portion of waste for beneficial purposes such as composting. John Reich, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Director Urban Food Systems
These past couple of years of shortages and high prices have shown the importance of turning local waste into quality compost to grow food with less external inputs, but it can be confusing for cities to know where to begin. Our model will help by laying out the costs and benefits of the range of available composting technologies and scales before them. Dr. Chad Hellwinckel
Principal investigator and research associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Tennessee

Details About this Research

UT researchers are developing the DSS, which will enable partners, city planners and community leaders to determine best options for identifying and scaling food waste redirection, composting and use of compost using a model that can be easily applied to other cities.

UT researchers are working with partners to initiate a pilot composting facility, collect data and conduct field trial composting to inform the DSS and educate the community on composting process and technologies.

The DSS will enable communities to make well-informed decisions that reduce food waste in landfills as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Multi-scale, multi-technology solutions, like DSS, are better able to meet and evolve with urban food systems’ unique challenges.

How This Research Contributes to Our Mission

FFAR funds audacious research addressing the biggest challenges in food and agriculture.  This research will provide data and solutions will help address food waste challenges unique to urban food systems.

Matching Funders

Thank you to our matching funders: Metro Nashville, Resource Capture, UT and Urban Green Lab.

The Latest


As an inclusive organization, we host Insights from thought leaders across for food and agriculture community on DEI. Learn more about their unique experiences and perspectives.

See all Insights


The latest news and updates from FFAR.

See all News


Tools, technologies and strategies from the research we fund.

See all Breakthroughs

Want to do more to support our pioneering research?

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest updates.