The Dirt on Composting: the seriousness of food waste and how you can control it

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Let’s start with the facts – according to a recent article in Forbes that interviewed the CEO and co-founder of  Imperfect Foods, food waste contributes to a third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and makes up 21% of our landfill volume. Remember my note about the harmful impact of waste ending up in landfills? If not, reference my diaper blog or look out for my future post on the topic.  Spoiler alert: it’s not good.  With disposable diapers contributing to 30% of human waste in landfills and food making up 21%, controlling these two major sources of waste alone could make an enormous impact on the environment.

Before you start feeling really bad about those peaches or that head of lettuce in the back of your fridge that are collecting mold right now (peaches do it to me every time), much of the waste associated with food is not necessarily on the individual level.  Food waste starts at the production/processing level. “More than 50% of food waste occurs during production, yield handling and storage. The remaining happens during processing, distribution and consumption stages.” Agriculture alone accounts for 70% of the water used throughout the world. By throwing out just 2 lbs of beef, you are essentially wasting 50,00 liters of water that were used to produce that meat. Similarly, nearly 1,000 liters of water are wasted when you pour one glass of milk down the drain. In addition to insane water usage, additional waste occurs due to insufficient skills, natural mishaps, and poor infrastructure. Needless to say, serious efforts need to be made when it comes to processing and distributing food, but this does not take away from the importance of what we can do as an individual to help combat some of this waste.

While the first and most impactful way we can help reduce food waste is to only buy what we are going to use (honestly, we all need to work on this) here is info on how to more efficiently discard food scraps and excess food through the use of composting:

It is estimated that Americans waste 150,000 tons of food each day – equal to 1 lb per person.😞

There are 3 main ways that people can help reduce food waste:

1. Don’t create it in the first place- be super conscious about what you tend to throw out and don’t buy as much next time!  

  • Do you meal prep but have a short work week? Don’t buy as much as you would for a typical week.  Are you on vacation and buy a bunch of salad ingredients because you want to eat healthy- but you’re really just going to hit up that stand at the beach with your friends? These are moments we have all had, but if we recognize these tendencies, we can at least work on reducing them.
  • Notice your veggies are fading? Learn to par-boil and safely freeze for use later. Never getting to those grapes? Make jelly! (It’s not nearly as hard as you think.) Bananas turning brown? Make bread or muffins! Too many cucumbers, carrots, eggs, garlic, etc.? Make pickles!

2. Donate excess food to a local hunger-relief organization.  

  • Are you part of a produce CSA and collect more food than you know what to do with? Most CSAs allow you to “reject food and donate it to the local food pantry. Did you just really overbuy at the store?  Give it to someone in need.  It may take a tiny bit of research on your part to find out what organizations in your area accept food donations, but it’s a really good thing to do.  One more fact for you: it is estimated that one in nine people in the world do NOT have access to sufficient food to lead a healthy life. More people are reported to die from hunger every day than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. 

3. Compost…

But How?

I’m lucky in that I live in a city and have it the absolute easiest when it comes to composting.  And if you live in a city, you probably have access to the same programs I do.  So I will start with my city peeps.  The majority of cities have composting companies that make the entire process incredibly easy, like ridiculously so.  All you have to do is the following:

  • Google “Composting your city’s name” Ex. Composting Philadelphia
  • Compare pricing and details for the different programs available, because there will likely be multiple.
    • Our program only costs us $15/month.
  • Once signed up the company will provide you with a composting bucket where you will store all your composting/food scraps.
  • You will place the filled bucket out on the curb once a week or once every other week depending on the program.
  • The company will empty your bucket.
  • You rinse your bucket with soap and water to keep it from getting nasty and start all over again. 

*Some non-environmental perks:

  • You will collect SO much less trash over the course of a week, which is nice for sanitary /vanity reasons too (you can store your compost bucket inside or outside, doesn’t make a difference).
  • Your trash won’t smell!  Most of what gets stinky in the trash is food (or diapers…well would you look at that!?)
  • These composting companies typically use the compost to create rich and nutritious soil, which you can turn around and buy!  
    • Some people refuse to use any soil but composting soil, because it is supposed to be that good.

My city people- that is all the detail I am giving you, cause do you really need more?  It’s basically just like having a second trash that is solely for food and you are doing such a good thing for the earth!

Country friends: and I’ve got a lot of you too (for those of you who haven’t visited my ‘About Me’ page, I lived in Woodstock, NY until I was 18 and many of my friends and family still live in upstate NY),  while you wonderful people tend to be slightly more ahead of the game when it comes to being up on how to combat the harmful effects of agriculture since you are so closely surrounded by it; the task of composting is a bit more daunting. 

First, still take a swing at googling your town and see if there are composting programs.  More and more small and rural towns are banning together and setting up programs, so you might be one of the lucky ones.  If not, the process is not THAT bad and with my new mom perspective I see a fun kid/parent activity here! For areas without programs, you essentially have to do the above steps as well as what a composting company would do, and there are a few ways to do this:

If you have a wooded area:

  • Create a pile/mound.                                                          
  • Find an area that lends itself to dampness, but also gets some heat. (Ideal composting occurs between 90-140 degrees Fahrenheit. The composting process itself will stop in the winter, but pick up again when the temps warm up. You can continue your business as usual through the winter, the actual decomposition will just be on pause.) 
  • Insulate your pile.
    • Always have brown material (straw, leaves, wood chips, sticks, sawdust, any shredded non-coated paper). There is no exact rule on how much to use, so this may require a bit of trial and error.
  • Get yourself a tool such as a pitchfork or shovel to “turn” your compost (Have someone take a picture of you if you opt for the pitchfork, because you kind of have to, no?)
  • Get started! Alternate wet (food scraps) and brown materials as they become available. Ideal is 1 part green to 2 parts brown.
  • Turn your compost pile every three to seven days.  (Turning or mixing the compost gets needed air into the pile and more evenly distribute heat.)
  • Keep it moist (Sorry, I know it’s a loathed word, but I got nothing else for ya.)
    • The pile should be damp at all times, but not wet. If you pick up a handful and squeeze it, only a few drops of water should come out.

If you do not have a ton of land you have 2 options:

  1. Use a composting bin – the process is essentially the same as the pile/mound but remains contained so you can store it in almost any size backyard or even in your garage. A properly kept bin will not attract critters.
  2. An indoor worm bin: 😳 Yeah. I don’t know about this one. I’m a little squeamish when it comes to insects, but if you can stomach it, it’s actually really fascinating and possibly the easiest method of all. But, honestly, I just can’t. Although again, I see a possible school project in Weston’s future…

If you want to read more details about ANY of these methods, please refer to this super helpful guide by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

That’s the process for you. If you live in an area that has a community composting program please sign up ASAP, it really is so incredibly convenient! If you don’t, I won’t pretend that this particular effort is super easy, but it is a HUGE way for you to make an impact on the environment and make strides towards living a more sustainable life. I really hope you will consider it.

While different composting companies have slightly different rules on what products they accept in their buckets the general rules for composting, including when composting at home are:

NOT Acceptable:

  • Meat & Bones or Fatty food scrapes (this will attract pests)
  • Coal or Charcoal Ash
  • Black Walnut Tree Leaves
  • Pet Waste
  • Yard trimmings treated with pesticides
  • “Compostable” K-Cups*
  • “Compostable” Plastic items*

*These items are basically a marketing scheme. I’ve been fooled myself, but they are hardly better for the environment than regular plastic.

Acceptable:

  • Bread
  • Brown paper
  • Coffee grinds & filters
  • Corncobs
  • Paper, non-glossy egg cartons
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ash (not charcoal)
  • Fruits & Vegetables (pits and rotted are okay too)
  • Hair & Fur
  • Hay & Straw
  • Hops
  • Plants
  • Leaves
  • Newspaper (non-glossy)
  • Nuts, including shells
  • Paper towels & napkins (soiled is okay, but NOT with chemicals/cleaners)
  • Pasta
  • Pizza Boxes (non-glossy)
  • Rice
  • Seeds
  • Tea bags (no staples)
  • Tofu
  • Dairy

3 comments on “The Dirt on Composting: the seriousness of food waste and how you can control it”

  1. Didn’t know composting was this easy! Totally thought you needed like land and a spot to have a pile. I feel like I could totally do this without a huge change in my life! Already googled- waiting for response from someone local who runs a similar composting program to yours-BCS Composting! Hoping I’m composting by next week!

    Like

  2. Didn’t know composting was this easy! Totally thought you needed like land and a place for a pile. I feel like I could do this without a huge change in my everyday life! Already googled and reached out to a local program similar to yours-BCS COMPOSTING. Hoping to be composting by next week! I’ll keep you updated- also wondering if you could post that smoothie recipe from your video!

    Like

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