Cornell’s Team Biochampions was composed of Global Development MPS students Justine Sequeira, Louise Erskine, Jake Kennedy, Sage Grasso-Monroe and Brendan Rosen, and their colleagues Shimeng Gao (CALS MPS) and Luis Fernando Perez (Dyson MS).
“North America’s resource systems are broken. The ends are frayed and working for very few,” said Erskine, who studies the impacts international agriculture has on rural communities. “The food we eat and the waste we produce are deeply connected to the air we breathe, the land we walk on, and the economies that support our families.”
The virtual competition from students in the Agrifood 5 Alliance of the world’s top agricultural universities — Cornell, University of California at Davis, China Agricultural University, University of São Paulo, and Wageningen University — was a lead-up up to the United Nations 2021 Food Systems Summit.
The Cornell team proposed a solution for today’s wasteful, linear and centralized food systems: to localize and modernize recycling with a central focus on biochar technology. Biochar provides several benefits to the community, namely as a soil amendment to increase water absorption, nutrient retention, and micro-organism growth; as a source of energy that can be used to create new biochar or sustain existing infrastructure; and as a tool to purify water sources. It is a viable carbon sequestration tool and can provide an opportunity to access carbon markets.
Team Biochampions proposed that academics, municipal policymakers, and environmental organizations should come together to create a how-to guide for successfully designing a city-wide waste-based circular economy. The Playbook could assess the current waste pathways, evaluate current waste infrastructure, and explore stakeholder needs, opportunities, and incentives - all while creating business for municipal waste facilities.
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