CELS Alum Takes on Rhode Island’s Unsustainable Food Waste

The massive amount of food waste sitting in landfills can be a difficult fact to digest. According to Conor MacManus, a University of Rhode Island College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS) alumnus, approximately 90% of household food waste ends up in landfills. When you consider the fact that 40% of this food waste is compostable, MacManus says it’s a clear issue of unsustainability that needs to be addressed, especially in Rhode Island. “We have approximately 15 years left before we reach the capacity at Rhode Island’s one and only landfill in Johnston,” MacManus explains. “It’s looming and it’s burdening our future in the state.”

MacManus, who has always been ambitious in his desire to create a more sustainable society, majored in Green Markets and Sustainability at URI. “I realized times are changing and our generation is kind of at the forefront of it,” says MacManus, who graduated from URI in 2014. His passion to identify more sustainable solutions led to the creation of Rhodeside Revival LLC in 2018, a curbside composting company established by MacManus and fellow CELS alumnus Miguel Costa. Their goal: take on Rhode Island’s food waste issue.

MacManus’ interest in sustainability started during his high school years. “I’ve always had an interest in renewable energy,” he says. This interest, which was invigorated after taking some of Dr. Simona Trandafir’s environmental economics courses, eventually led him to enroll in the Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (ENRE) program in CELS. He credits his experience as a CELS student in ENRE with inspiring him to pursue his interests in the sustainability field. “It motivated me to get out there and make a difference and know that I can,” says MacManus.

This inspiration came to life in MacManus’ senior year, when he and friends noticed the amount of food wasted in the university’s dining halls. After a few conversations, they started the URI Composting Club, a student-run organization, still active today, that educates people about the benefits of composting. “That kind of started our interest in composting and food waste,” he notes. “We saw what a difference we could possibly make.”

As a curbside composting company, Rhodeside Revival provides food scrap collection services for homes and businesses. These food scraps are then brought to Earth Care Farm in Charlestown where they are turned into compost. The goal is to divert food scraps from becoming food waste in the landfill.

The company is also focused on educating people about the importance of sustainable disposal of food waste, whether it’s at the URI Sustainability Summit or Narragansett Elementary School. “We’ll never say no to an event,” MacManus says. “We are always trying to educate, we’re still learning ourselves, you know, so the more we get people informed about this, the bigger difference we’ll make.”

In addition to running the company, MacManus works full time as a solar project manager for Sol Power, one of Rhode Island’s leading renewable energy companies. Balancing his workload can be challenging, but the success and growth of Rhodeside Revival and support he has received from people continues to inspire his passion for the company and its mission. What does MacManus consider a successful day? “Physically taking hundreds of pounds of food scraps away from the landfill and coming home, opening the email and finding five to ten people have signed up for the program,” he says.

Reflecting on his CELS experience, MacManus notes how much he was able to learn, and how that knowledge is helping him achieve his goal of creating a more sustainable society. He advises students to take full advantage of the knowledge and experiences they’ve gained at URI and not take it for granted. “ENRE provides you with so much positive information; use that information as power,” he says. “Don’t be scared, everybody fails at things. But it’s time to make a difference and you can’t do that by sitting on your couch.”