Kentucky project tackles food and textile waste to aid senior citizens

Kentucky project tackles food and textile waste to aid senior citizens  

Kentucky agricultural experts are finding solutions by forming partnerships to assist in statewide issues such as food waste. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, approximately 31%, or 133 billion pounds, of the nation’s available food supply was discarded in 2010. The Environmental Protection Agency found that another 11 million tons of textiles head to landfills each year.

To combat these challenges after an Extension professor received several complaints, the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, UK Extension and the UK College of Public Health joined together to launch a project focused on upcycling textiles into grocery bags to transport meals (prepared from recovered food) to local, low-income senior citizens. The team also worked with several partner organizations, including Quilt Guilds of the Kentucky Extension Homemaker Association and UK Campus Kitchen, a student-powered organization dedicated to reducing food waste and eliminating food insecurity in the Lexington and UK community.

Upcycling textiles into other projects is a new phenomenon that started as a direct result of COVID-19. Funding was secured from the UK Office of Undergraduate Research. The team developed two grocery bag sewing patterns and recruited Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association members from several Kentucky county quilting guilds to sew the bags from fabric scraps or any materials they had on hand to repurpose.

As a result, the team has received 52 completed bags made of everything from denim to upholstery from 44 volunteers. Researchers found that the project diverted more than 11 pounds of textiles from landfills. The bags are now in the testing phase where volunteers will use them for packaging and delivering freshly prepared, nutritionally balanced meals using recovered foods to low-resourced local older adults in a subsidized senior residence.

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