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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Recycling Food for Fuel

    Schools in the SUNY system usually like to jump on the latest environmental bandwagon, often considering themselves ‘innovators’ in green technology and sustainable practices. Stony Brook is no exception to this. Stony Brook Southampton, for example, boasts ‘undergraduate majors in Environmental Studies, Ecosystems and Human Impact, Environmental Design, Policy and Planning and Sustainability Studies.’ In the past several years, students have seen the introduction of everything from recycling bins to biodegradable plasticware. The latest trend seems to be putting our food to work in our transportation system. The idea is to use left over vegetable oil from Kelly Dining hall to power Bio-Fuel Buses. This latest move is an improvement on Stony Brook’s Bus fleet which, since 2005, has been using BioDiesel technology in compliance with state regulations which promote the use of ‘greener technologies.’ Ironically, it is these types of government regulations, subsidies and rebates which could be driving up world fuel prices. Over the last several years, it has become the practices of governments of North and South America and Europe to offer tax breaks to farmers who grow biofuels. As a result the resources which were primarily devoted to food sources, for people and livestock, get diverted. Incentive is created for farmers to not grow the crops which are demanded by the free market, but to fuels that the government decides on. This is not a problem in and of itself because there are benefits to the creation of green technologies. However, environmentalists forget that products must be economically, in addition to environmentally, sustainable in order to be effective. If there is limited demand in the market for BioDiesel, for example, the product will be a flop and a lot of investment capital will be lost. In the meantime, other areas which could use that investment take a hit. This is what seems to be happening with BioDiesel. The shifting of resources from food to fuel is driving food prices up, because there is less food being grown. Coupled with the devaluing dollar and rising gas prices, this could spell disaster as less people can afford to put food on their plates. As fossil fuels get more expensive, the demand for alternative energy sources will naturally increase so there is no need for the government to waste resources by influencing normal market forces. Entrepreneurs and companies will innovate, on their own, how to come up with alternative solutions when the market demands it, and that will be when oil prices reach some ceiling. This will happen soon, but we’re not there yet. In the meantime, using green technologies efficiently and sustainably, like using vegetable oil that would get thrown out anyway, is a great idea and exactly the sort of mentality we’ll need to adopt for a post-oil future. These types of in-house recycling might be the only way to go for the sustainable use of biofuels and fertilizers. Even though I don’t doubt Kelly Dining’s ability to burn through cooking oil, unless they’re planning to start deep frying pizza and burritos I can’t fathom that Campus Dining is going to be able to fulfill all needs of Transportation Services. Most likely the fuel needs will only be supplemented and not replaced. So, until Stony Brook opens its own fast food chain, buying vegetable oil for the sole purpose of fuel is a short sighted idea with unintended economic consequences that’s lending to record levels of world hunger at a time of already economic uncertainty.

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