Undergraduate Student Focus: Madison Hodges, Class of 2022

September 13, 2021

Madison Hodges, a senior studying Environmental and Ecological Engineering, has already put her passion for sustainability to work.  As board member and chair of the Go Greener Commission for the City of West Lafayette, she has spent over a year working with many groups in the community to establish new locations for food waste donations. In addition to her experience here in West Lafayette, Hodges recently completed an internship with Cummins in Columbus, IN, during which she worked on projects including a life cycle analysis of single use plastic alternatives as well as developing a framework for helping corporate sites meet sustainability goals.

In light of her dedication, the senior was one of only 50 college students to earn the 2021 Udall Scholarship for leadership, public service, and commitment to Native American Nations and/or the environment. In receiving this award, Hodges has been able to connect with many individuals in the environmental industry and investigate the opportunities provided in the private and public sectors. The experience of applying for and receiving the scholarship encouraged her to strive for her dreams post-college. These dreams include working at the city level to plan and implement climate action plans, as cities are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions. She says, “Environmental issues are also closely linked to social justice, and it is important to help communities adapt and change in ways that are suitable for everyone.” From her own experience, Hodges knows that changes made at the city level can do a lot of good for its community and beyond.

Hodges first became involved in food waste efforts during her freshman year while working with the Purdue Student Sustainability Council.  Through this, she met an upperclassman starting a food waste diversion program for Greek houses. The program sparked an interest in Hodges, and she ran with it. She found her way to the Go Green Commission and has recently served as the point person to coordinate best drop-off locations throughout the city and has worked with a team doing economic analyses of the project. This work has become her passion.  As she says, “Daily habits are going to have to change. The way society functions, our infrastructure, how we produce our food with limited resources. We have to change and reduce our waste. It’s a reality that we are going to produce waste, but there are still things we can do with it that has some sort of positive impact or lessens our impact on the environment. If we are going to produce waste, we might as well do something with it.”

While other cities in Indiana, including Bloomington and Indianapolis, collect food waste from residents, only Purdue has been sending food waste from five dining halls to an anaerobic digestor for over a decade, turning it into energy to help run West Lafayette’s wastewater plant. More recently, the program has added two additional waste streams – Greek houses and the broader community – and more pick up sites are in the works. Hodges added that tackling the food waste problem is important because “it’s a reality that we are going to produce waste, but there are still things we can do that…lessen our impact on the environment. If we are going to produce waste, we might as well do something with it.”

Working with Purdue’s Center for the Environment, Hodges will be participating in a student-focused event, “Food Waste: A Panel Discussion on Global to Local Solutions” on September 22 from 6-7:30 pm in Hiler Theater, WALC. This event, which is free and open to the public, will provide a detailed look at how food loss and food waste impacts communities and sustainability efforts worldwide.  Speakers include two Purdue faculty: Dr. Abby Engelberth, associate professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and Environmental and Ecological Engineering, an expert in bio-waste recovery and sustainability; as Jen-Yi Huang, associate professor of Food Science, who research sustainable food processing.  Also on the panel will be David Henderson, Utility Director, Water Resource Recovery Facility, for the City of West Lafayette, who helps run the food waste program, as well as Madison Hodges.  The panel discussion will be moderated by Dr. Lindsey Payne, Director, Service Learning; Assistant Professor of Practice in Environmental and Ecological Engineering. Hodges commented that people should expect to learn about the science and research going behind the efforts to utilize food waste for energy.

Contact: Lynne Dahmen, Managing Director, Center for the Environment, ldahmen@purdue.edu

Writer: Lauren Wetterau, Communication Intern, Center for the Environment