It’s week fourteen of 52 Weeks for Earth, the 52-week challenge to gradually reduce your impact on the planet. We’ve mentioned briefly before the problem with sending food to landfill, and in fact, 20% of everything that goes into municipal landfill is food. Let’s reduce our contribution to this by stopping putting food waste into landfill.
The first step of reducing food in landfill is to reduce your overall food waste generated. But even done perfectly, there’s always food wastes associated with the preparation of food; the stalks, cores, husks, peels of food that is uneatable, or unappetising. We might be able to get another life out of vegetable scraps, by planting those that regrow to food or houseplants, or boiling them for stock, but food waste is inevitable. Everything must breakdown eventually.
But it’s up to us to decide how the food waste we produce will break down. When sent to landfill, food waste is first wrapped in plastic garbage bags, and sandwiched between more of the same into a large pile, before eventually being covered over entirely. This environment is built to contain all that waste, but isn’t very conducive to the natural breakdown of food.
Trapped without air, food decomposing in landfill actually produces methane, a greenhouse gas over 20x as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat. In fact, landfills account for 34 percent of all methane emissions in the U.S. In addition to the production of methane, landfill contaminates soil, ground water, and pollutes debris in surrounding area.
Overall, landfills are a waste of resources, certainly there’s the cost of transporting and managing landfill and it’s by-products, as well as the land space that’s overtaken to manage our waste. Habitat used for landfill is altered beyond return to its original state, and will affect birds and wildlife in the area who can be attracted by the food, much of it not good them. While today there are far fewer landfills (the US has 2000 active landfills, where previous there was over 10,000), this means that trash is travelling further to be disposed of, generating more greenhouse gas through transportation.
Landfill is also just a waste of all the resources it took to produce all those materials in the first place. For example, up to 50% of all landfill space is paper, much of which could have been recycled to make more paper, rather than cutting down more trees for new paper.
WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR FOOD WASTE
What you choose to do with your food waste depends what option best suits your lifestyle and diet. The most self-sustaining option is to start your own compost, having it at home is also easier than having to take your waste somewhere for collection, such as town food waste bins.
There’s several ways to compost, which suit all sorts of lifestyles and environments, the good news is they’re all relatively easy to maintain once set up!
- Vermicomposting, or worm compost, is relatively compact, easy to make, and manage, plus has the added benefit of a whole family of new pets; red wiggler worms! Next week I’ll show you how you can easily set up your own vermicompost.
- If you have the space in your garden you might consider starting a compost heap with an open bin or pile, or a closed bin or a compost tumbler might suit your needs.
- If you eat meat, fish and daily, there’s even methods of composting that into nutrient rich melon holes, or using a green cone keeps food out of the waste stream, however, doesn’t produces usable finished compost.
- Today there’s even an electronic and computerised indoor composter called NatureMill.
Perhaps you or your neighbours have some chickens who will gladly eat most of your scraps, even meat. Chickens also have the added benefit of producing eggs, who’s shells you can actually crush and feed back to them (it’s not as cannibalistic as it sounds, okay?). Just be sure to find out what they can and cannot eat beforehand.
COUNCIL FOOD WASTE COLLECTION
If your local council collections food waste, whether by collection at your property, or at a specific collection bin. How collected food is treated depends on your council but there are several options.
- Where collected with garden waste, it is treated by in-vessel composting at a local commercial composting facility, the final product being nutrient-rich fertiliser used in agriculture, landscaping and horticulture.
- Food waste collected alone is often composted with anaerobic digestion, producing compost and biogas used as green electricity.
Once you stop sending your food to landfill you’ll see a drastic reduction of the total amount of waste you’re sending to landfill, which means less trips to take the trash out, and you’ll have less stinky garbage cans, as pretty much everything wet is headed elsewhere! In addition to reducing methane emissions you’ll ensure the resources and nutrients that went into making your food isn’t just lost to landfill, but is returned to the food cycle in some way.