This article is part of a four-part series on buying, storing, preserving and composting foods to prevent waste
There is no ‘away’ to throw things. When food ends up in landfills it decomposes anaerobically which releases methane, a greenhouse gas 25x more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Since Americans throw away around 150,000 tons of food every day, the effect on climate change is significant. Even when we do all we can to reduce food waste by buying only what we need, storing and preserving foods properly, we still end up with inedible scraps or things that have gone off. Here are some basics on composting to divert waste from the landfill.
Generally, if it came from the dirt it can go back to the dirt. A lot of household trash like coffee grounds, onion skins and egg shells can be composted – broken down by natural aerobic processes into a rich fertilizer. This is a key difference between extractive and regenerative food systems. Through composting, the natural resources and energy in those scraps can be reverted into a useful product for growing more food. Many cities now offer municipal composting — meaning that compostable food scraps are picked up alongside the recycling and garbage. Scraps are diverted from the landfills and turned into fertilizer which is usually available for free to amend garden soil or used for city projects. Even if it doesn’t get used actively, there is a tremendous benefit to the planet if food waste is converted into harmless, natural fertilizer and not producing methane in a landfill.
If municipal compost is not available in your city and you have the space, backyard composting is an option that takes very little time once you have it set up. This is an especially good option for gardeners to maintain nutrients in their plot without needing chemical fertilizers. You can make your own from things that would otherwise be thrown out. Go here for more info on starting your own compost pile : www.planetnatural.com/composting-101/.
Challenge yourself to separate out your compost and recyclables and see how little actual trash you need to throw ‘away’!
Mieko Diener is a dietetic intern with a master’s degree in nutritional science from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.