Reduce Food Waste
Did you know around 40% of America's food is wasted each year? In a 2012 study, Americans were shown to toss out $165 billion each year in just food waste. Once this food is tossed into the trash can, it travels to a landfill by a garbage truck. Landfills are not 'natural' systems and do not allow food to decompose as they would if they were tossed in your backyard compost or garden. Because we use trash bags, our uneaten food will rot (or preserve in some cases!) in the plastic and release a 50-50 biogas of carbon dioxide and methane into the surrounding air. Not-so-fun fact: methane is over 20x more potent than carbon dioxide and stays in the air for up to 12 years. Some landfills even capture this methane to produce renewable energy!
What can we do about this? We can reduce our food waste by doing a few simple things:
- Buy only what you need and plan your meals in advance.
- Store your food correctly. Save the Food has a great web guide here!
- Don't buy in bulk unless you need to.
- Eat at home more. Restaurants overfeed us and toss whatever we don't eat straight into the trash can.
- Get creative in the kitchen when your food is on the edge of spoiling.
- Know what your food's expiration date is actually telling you. Trust your smeller and your taster, not the label! Learn more here.
Composting is a way we can divert our food waste, paper waste, and other waste into nutritious soil fertilizer. It is a balance between two key nutrients: carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens). We use compost to add nutrients to the soil, increase the soil's capacity to hold air and water, and suppress certain plant diseases.
How does it work? Composting goes through a number of biological and chemical processes, such as enzymatic digestion, oxidation, reduction, and hydrolysis. The biological process, enzymatic digestion, includes the work from microbial organisms, or microbes. These microbes are important in the decomposition process! In the microbial decomposition process, compost goes through three main stages: psychrophilic (between 0-70 degrees F), mesophylic (between 40-110 degrees F), and thermophylic (between 104-160 degrees F). The thermophylic stage is important to kill off pathogens and seeds; this occurs when the temperature is over 130 degrees F.
There are so many different ways you can compost. Let's explore some options:
- Wire bin: great for yard waste
- Single-unit bin: great for food waste
- Tumbler bin: great for food waste
- Two- or Three-unit bin: great for yard waste and food waste
- Compost pile: great for a heavy load of "greens" and "browns"
- Pit/Trench compost: great for gardens
- African keyhole garden: great for gardens
- Hugelkultur: great for fallen/chopped trees
- Sheet pile: great for large tracts of land
- Bokashi: great for food waste and if you have no yard
- Vermicomposting: great for food waste and if you have no yard (and fishing!)
What goes in the bin? The ideal ratio between carbon (browns) and nitrogen (greens) is 30:1. This does not mean that if this ratio is not met, you will not have compost. Each compost is different!
Greens are your food waste. They hold in moisture and will give your compost the hydration it needs. If unbalanced, this is what makes your compost smelly. Browns are your dry, paper items. They will take in the moisture from the greens. Below is a list of greens, browns, and other items that are acceptable and are not acceptable in your typical compost bin.
|Grass/Yard clippings||Vegetables||Fruit||Egg shells||Stale bread||Dried leaves||Plants|
|Dryer lint||Dry pasta||Newspaper||Paper bags||Beans||Coffee grounds||Hay|
|Hair||100% cotton||Nut shells*||Cork||Wine/beer||Urine||Herbivore poop**|
|Exoskeletons***||Wood||100% latex||Wood ash||Algae||Paper towels||Moldy cheese|
|Cardboard||Castile/ivory soap||Leather||Pet hair||Dead insects||Burlap||Spices|
*Watch your black walnut intake. They produce a toxin called juglone that can, if numbers are great, affect plant growth.
**An herbivore is a plant-eater, like deer, hamsters, and rabbits. Because they solely eat plants, you can compost it. When you compost poop that is from omnivores, like dogs or humans, or from carnivores, like cats, it can carry harmful bacteria and impair plant health.
***Exoskeletons are not only on insects and spiders - they are on some things we commonly eat! You can safely compost shrimp, lobster, crab, and crayfish exoskeletons.
|Meat||Milk||Oil/grease||Magazines*||Glossy paper*||Diseased plants||Rice|
|Animal poop**||Tobacco***||Used tissues||Baked goods||Coal ash***||Diapers||Tampons/Pads***|
|Tea bags||Fertilizer||Dead animals||Polyester clothing||Batteries||Ceramics||Glass|
|Prescription pills||Greasy pizza boxes||Compostable bags****||Photos*||Hazardous waste||Ribbon||Tape|
|Lotion||Receipts||Juice/milk cartons||Compostable plastic****|
*These items typically have a layer of plastic to make them appear glossy. Please recycle here instead!
**Omnivore (human and dog) and carnivore (cat) poop carry harmful bacteria that will affect plant health.
***These items contain toxins and known carcinogens.
****Surprisingly, you can't compost compostable bags or plastic in your backyard compost. These are specifically designed for large composting facilities with certain types of machinery. Unfortunately, this is not an option in this area at this time.