Were you a part of the clean plate club growing up, or did you stand by and watch as your parents scraped your half-eaten plate into the trash can? I was the ladder – and it always irked me that food (perfectly edible, usually) was being sealed into plastic trash bags, to wind up in a landfill with all of the other trash that we produce in our day-to-day lives.
When you’re a kid, you don’t see the big picture of how much food is being wasted everywhere. Then you grow up, and you see it all around you. You can choose to ignore it, embrace making changes, or fight for solutions.
How Much Food Are We Wasting?
It’s estimated that 35 million tons of wasted food went to landfills in 2018. -EPA
In the United States, food waste is estimated at between 30–40% of the food supply, with 31% of food loss being at the retail and consumer levels. Wasted food is the single largest category of material placed in municipal landfills and represents nourishment that could have helped feed families in need. -FDA
A Wisconsin DNR study found that the number one thing that we “throw away” is food. This is a problem because there are many negative outcomes from putting food waste in the landfill.
What Happens at the Landfill and Why Does it Matter if Food Ends Up There?
Landfills are not designed to break down waste- only to store it, according to the National Solid Waste Management Authority. Garbage in a landfill is first compacted in an area covered with clay, then a layer of flexible plastic to prevent contaminated fluids (leachate) from leaving the landfill. When capacity has been reached, the waste gets covered with more clay and sealed with another plastic shield, then is covered with dirt, soil, then plants.
The trash decomposes very slowly in a sealed environment that lacks oxygen. Because there is no oxygen, anerobic bacteria in the waste produce methane gas, which is highly flammable and dangerous. Methane is also a potent greenhouse gas and contributes to global climate change. Modern landfill systems collect methane in a layer of pipes placed above the solid waste layer. Some landfills vent this methane into the air, and others collect it to sell or burn as a source of energy.
It really DOES matter what we put into landfills. We have a duty to divert food waste from landfills and make a huge impact, reducing the amount of methane and leachate being produced.
What Can We Do About It?
Do you know how much food is wasted in your community? In your state? These are great things to look into and be aware of in order to push for sustainable change, but in order to make a tangible difference today, do you know how much food is wasted in your own home? What about how much waste that you generate overall? As a single-person household or family household, how much do you waste per week/month/etc.? My challenge for everyone is to find this out, and to find ways to reduce your own waste. Although large companies have an even larger impact on what ends up in the landfill, you can still make an impact locally, and encourage others to do the same.
Solutions for Everyone
There’s not a single answer to the food waste solution, but the EPA created the Food Recovery Hierarchy to help prioritize actions that organizations (and individuals) can take to prevent and divert wasted food. Each tier of the Food Recovery Hierarchy focuses on different management strategies for your wasted food. In order from most preventative to least preventative, the tiers are: Source Reduction, Feed Hungry People, Feed Animals, Industrial Uses, Composting, then Landfill/Incineration.
The top levels of the hierarchy are the best ways to prevent and divert wasted food because they create the most benefits for the environment, society and the economy.
A great place to start diverting food waste in your household is to first reduce the amount of surplus food that you purchase and generate. Be mindful when purchasing items to be sure that you will in fact use it before it expires. Always remember to properly recycle your recyclables as well!
Think Globally, Act Locally
The next best step to divert food waste from landfills would be to donate edible foods to those who could still eat it. Connect with your local food bank, shelter or soup kitchen that would accept your food. Donate edible food that you know you won’t use before it expires. If it’s not safe for human consumption, food scraps can be diverted to animals.
After the point of food being consumable, you can either divert your food waste from the landfill through industrial uses (typically waste oils for fuel conversion/food scraps for digestion and energy recovery), or through composting.
Composting is a great way to divert food waste from landfills. Not only are you preventing your food scraps from creating greenhouse gases and contaminated leachates, but yo
u are creating a soil amendment that can act as a natural fertilizer to give back to your garden. Close the food waste loop at your home and start composting! There are a lot of different ways to start composting, either by making one yourself or by purchasing a bin. We recommend if you purchase a bin, to select one that has an open bottom to allow the natural exchange of microbes within the environment, rather than a tumbler-style compost bin. Vermicomposting (worm farm composting) is also a great way to break down your food waste quickly.
Investing in a nice compost kitchen pail to bring food scraps out to your compost pile is a fool-proof way to ensure you are actually composting. Keep it right next to your food prepping station on the kitchen counter so it’s not out of sight [out of mind]!
If you don’t have the ability to compost, check to see if there is a compost collection hauling service in your area that will help you divert your food waste from the landfill.
Spread Backyard Composting Throughout Your Community
Across the country, communities are creating their food waste diversion goals. Food waste is being treated as a valuable resource that can be recycled into a usable soil amendment. One of the most effective strategies with community-wide efforts is to keep food scraps as close to the location they are generated to the place they are composted. The more people that compost their own food waste, the less the community or municipalities need to haul away and transport to a certified composter who will take the material.
For over 20 years, Recycling Connections has coordinated an annual ‘bulk’ purchase of the Home Composter™ bin on behalf of municipalities, organizations and groups interested in selling compost bins as a way to promote backyard composting and assist with climate or other sustainability goals. After testing numerous compost bins, Recycling Connections recommends the Home Composter™ as the best backyard compost bin ever made.
The Compost Bin Group Purchase Program is for nonprofit organizations, schools, and governmental entities in the lower 48 states (USA). The Home Composter™ is only available through these organizations, meaning it is not sold at retail stores. This allows you to offer a high-quality bin to community members at a price that big stores don’t offer, along with all of the resources they need to be successful with their backyard composting. The base price for each bin depends on the total group order, and in 2022, bin costs were between $50-$55. To date, we have sold almost 19,500 bins throughout the country!
Recycling Connections Can Help Support Your Community
We offer over 20 years of experience in organizing community compost bin sales. As part of the program, participants receive support materials for local sales, including templates for flyers, ads, news releases, and tips for delivering a community compost bin program. We also provide free webinars that can be shared with community members and customers. Program participants can set their own bin sale price to help them meet their community goals, divert more waste, and reduce impacts on landfills. We are now offering our program to communities Nationwide, with pricing varying with the shipping location. There is also an online pre-sale option for communities who want added support in their sale.
Our goal is to help you succeed with your sale to meet your organic diversion goals by reducing waste in your community through backyard composting!
If you would like to participate in Recycling Connection’s Spring 2023 Compost Bin Group Purchase Program or to learn more about our program, please visit www.recyclingconnections.org/bin-purchase-program, or contact Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.