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Students Help Cedar Rapids Economic Development Group with Database of Waste

Business students at The University of Iowa are helping to chronicle the biodegradable waste and byproducts produced by some of Cedar Rapids' manufacturers in the hope of finding other businesses that can reuse the material. The program could help companies save money, encourage sustainability by diverting waste from landfills, create new products, and attract new businesses to the region.

The program is overseen and funded by Priority One, the economic development division of the Cedar Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Instead of throwing this material away, we can use it to attract other companies that will convert it into something useful, and in the process, build a new plant and employ people," said Frank Rydzewski, a lecturer in marketing in the Henry B. Tippie College of Business who coordinated the students' efforts in a marketing field studies class. He is also former CEO of American Profol, a Cedar Rapids manufacturer of polypropylene films.

The raw-material-from-waste model of sustainability is already being used in a partnership between the city's Quaker Oats plant and The University of Iowa. The University burns Quaker's oat hulls in its power plant to create energy, keeping the hulls out of the waste stream, and providing cost effective alternate fuel for the University.

For the class, Rydzewski had 14 students accountable for recording the materials they found in the waste streams of 23 participating companies. They also researched potential applications for the material. In some cases, the students determined the composition of the material by reviewing paperwork supplied by the company and visiting the facilities. In others, the students gathered samples and brought them to The University of Iowa's Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing on the Oakdale campus, which used chemical analysis to break down and identify the compounds in the waste. The list--which includes such potentially recyclable material as carbon dioxide gas, ethanol, oat hulls, and diatomaceous earth--is now being compiled.

It will be used to show other firms the kinds of raw materials readily available in Cedar Rapids, said Mark Seckman, president of Priority One.

"The students did a great job and laid a foundation for the next step of this effort," Seckman said. "This would not have gotten done without their work, and the process they set up will allow us to identify companies that could use the material."

One possible industry sector the students identified was pet food, which could use some of the waste produced by the area's food processing plants to make dog and cat food. They developed a marketing plan for Priority One including potential candidates to pursue.

Students participating in the class said they liked helping with economic development and increasing manufacturing efficiency in a way that also promotes environmental sustainability.

"It's a great way to turn a waste material into a raw material in a way that makes things better for everyone," said Jenny Matkovich, a senior in the class.

They said it also unwittingly improved their understanding of science, as they viewed the processes used by the UI's Center for Biocatalysis and Bioprocessing and visited manufacturing facilities in the region.

"One of the big challenges for me was understanding the terms and concepts because I don't have a biology or chemistry background, so that was helpful," said Hilary Cochrane, also a senior.


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