College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Waste Not Want Not


The US generates approximately 34 million tons of food waste annually. If you were to exchange each ton of that food into a word, where one word equals one ton, you could assemble the longest Harry Potter book (Order of the Phoenix) 132 times and have enough words left over to write the script, twice!

With an appreciation of how massive 34 million tons per year is, a group of 5 seriously talented Business undergraduates proposed a little magic of their own to solve the food-waste problem, at least on a local level. And they did it for their entry into the Ernst & Young Your World, Your Vision National Case Competition.

The competition challenges student teams to propose and deliver an initiative that has significant impact on the local community.

Freshman Jeane Natalia Lie ’14, accountancy sophomore Yiyun (Ariel) Jin ’14, and accountancy juniors Nga (Nadia) H. Le ’13, Jessica Chang ’13, and Pei Zou ’13 proposed a recycling system to reduce food waste from three agricultural fraternities at ILLINOIS with plans to expand it to the entire campus.

The basic process, called vermicomposting, is to collect the waste food and mix it with red worms. The worms take roughly half the time as regular composting to convert the food waste into plant food.

The team first competed and won on December 2, 2011, with other ILLINOIS teams. From there, they advanced to the national final on February 18th.

The project, titled “Small Red Worms, Big Green Chambana” won as a runner-up, receiving $1,000.

Community members from the Urbana City Council, researchers in the Illinois Sustainability Technology Center, several professors in the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, the Student Farm Coordinator, the Warm House Coordinator, E&Y advisors, and Dean John Hedeman were all very helpful throughout the process, according to Jin.
Jin added, “It was exciting to work with so many supporters. We believe that our project can really benefit the whole Champaign-Urbana community in terms of reducing wasted resources and raising awareness of environmentally sustainable practices like composting.”

Jin also offered advice to future competitors, saying:
1)      The more you put into this competition, the more you will get from it.
2)      Don’t be afraid to reach out to the abundant resources available to help your team.
3)      Build trust with your teammates. Working together delivers amazing results.
4)      Be adaptable. Each new piece of information is a potential game-changer and you should be prepared to integrate anything that strengthens your case.

Dean Hedeman was very proud of the team, noting it culminates the third year in a row that College of Business students have been prize winners in the national E&Y competition.

The knowledge gained in classes and from their many advisors, tempered with teamwork, skill and passion enabled these students to surpass the efforts of 11 other teams from around the United States and Canada.

The team’s accomplishment may not be, perhaps, as entertaining as Rowling’s fifth installment but it surely carries more weight in the real lives of the team members and the Chambana community.

Read about the team win from last year:

UIUC College of Business