Students explore sustainability efforts by Disney, Orlando businesses


The Alternative Break group visited the Harvest Power Plant at Walt Disney World where food scraps are transformed into electric energy and marketable crop fertilizer by-product.

The Alternative Break group visited the Harvest Power Plant at Walt Disney World where food scraps are transformed into electric energy and marketable crop fertilizer by-product.

In early November 2013, eight FIU students visited the Clean the World Foundation, UCF and Walt Disney World, where they received rare, behind-the-scenes tours of sustainable business practices by some of Florida’s leading companies. The Alternative Break trip marked one of 37 that departed from FIU in 2013, a growing community service program now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“The Orlando trip was unique in that it was the first partnership with Hospitality and qualified for internship hours for our students,” said Sabrena O’Keefe, assistant director for the Center for Leadership and Service. “While our students are always excited to travel to new places, it’s the service component that is typically most impactful.”

John Buschman, adjunct instructor, Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management and sustainability coordinator, Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, served as a staff participant and helped design the trip.

“At the Clean World Foundation, we sorted through 30,000 bars of soap which were later sanitized, ground up and formed into 27,000 new bars ready for distribution to those in need,” said Buschman. “We also sorted through 68,000 bottles of shampoo, conditioner and skin lotion which are similarly recycled.  These recovered products had been donated to Clean the World by hotels and resorts throughout Florida and other eastern states through an ongoing soap recovery and recycling program that the hospitality industry is invited to participate in.”

Buschman decided it wasn’t enough for the group to stop there and requested 600 soaps, shampoo, conditioner and lotion to bring back to Miami and distribute to South Florida outreach centers for the homeless. They were granted the request by the Foundation and carried out the project in conjunction with Miami Rescue Mission and Camillus House. He would later learn that the packages his group worked on in Orlando were shipped to the Philippines to help thousands who were affected by the typhoon.

While in Orlando, the group also worked with several non-profits and social organizations. At Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, thought to be one of the most advanced food banks in the country, students prepared 126,000 pounds of food into 5,000 boxes for families. They also served 185 meals to downtown Orlando’s homeless population and sorted 5,000 pounds of farmer-donated potatoes into 150 20-pound bags for distribution to area soup kitchens and food pantries.

“While our role was relatively small at just one of the many collection points throughout Central Florida, it was nonetheless thrilling to be part of such a massive effort to get food to those in need for the holiday season,” said Buschman.

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The highlight of the trip for many of the students was an exclusive tour of the not-yet-opened Harvest Power Plant at Walt Disney World.

“This unique facility has just been built using the very latest technologies to transform recovered food scraps from kitchens throughout the Mouse’s kingdom into electric energy while producing a marketable crop fertilizer by-product,” Buschman explained. “Very few industry professionals have seen, much less heard, about this amazing new facility and I’m proud to say that FIU students were among the very first to be allowed inside to take a look.”

Buschman says the trip was very rewarding.

“The icing on the cake was to get to know and travel with a motivated group of young men and women who were eager to learn and truly happy to contribute their time and talents to community need,” he said. “I’ve planned and operated trips to hundreds of destinations across five continents yet this trip stands among the most memorable I’ve done!”

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Alternative Break will make a record 40 trips to several North, South and Central American locations for the 2014-2015 academic year. To participate in Alternative Break, students can click here to apply by the August 31 deadline. Staff participants must apply by September 30.