Updated: Apr 16
More often than not, we spend little to no time thinking about how our food waste is managed. As consumers we put our food in the trash and expect that someone else will do something with it. Most of us understand that it's probably not great that our food is ending up in a landfill somewhere, but the issue is much larger than that. In an article by Foodprint, there are about 125 to 160 billion pounds of food in the United States that go to waste every year, much of this food being perfectly edible and nutritious (Foodprint). An article by NRDC elaborates on this statistic, explaining how Americans don't eat 40% of the food we consume (NRDC). That amount of waste equates to around 1250 calories lost per person, 21% of US landfills wasted, 19% of U.S. cropland wasted, or 21% of US water for agricultural use!
The agricultural system and food waste program are creating irreversible, detrimental effects on the environment. One of the underutilized solutions to the climate crisis is taking initiative in working towards a more sustainable food system. We need to start enforcing policies which promote a circular food economy rather than a linear one that temporarily profits off of exploitation.
This is an issue far greater than any individual, but we as individuals are partially responsible for this crisis. According to NRDC, households hold the largest responsibility in contributing to food waste (2012 NRDC). The small, yet important responsibility we hold in the food system gives us power to make positive changes in the way we handle our unused food. There are numerous policy proposals in place to reduce food waste in the United States. Although these policies may help reduce the effects of food pollution, we may not see these go into effect for decades.
I believe one of the most important changes we can make to counteract the negative effects of our wasteful food system is to integrate a compost bin into our homes. Composting our food significantly reduces or eliminates our contribution to food waste into landfills. The issue with food in landfills is the organic matter is actually preserved by the compact fitting of the landfill, making it much harder to actually recycle back into the soil. Food in landfills also contributes a greater amount of greenhouse gas emissions than food in compost bins.
Here is a list by Interstate Waste Services describing what you can and cannot compost. Look at all the things you can recycle back into your soil rather than contributing to the landfill crisis!
I have had a compost bin for almost two years now, and I have saved dozens of pounds of waste. My compost bin has allowed me to save tens of thousands of food scraps, flowers, paper products, leaves, and so much more from landfills. I keep an equal balance between greens and browns in the compost bin for the best results. I also mix my compost up once a week so the waste decomposes faster. Having worms in your compost bin is a sign that your bin is healthy and the waste is being decomposed by the insects. Interacting with your compost bin has actually been proven to help boost your immune system. You can buy a compost bin for as little as 10 dollars, but I recycled a large plastic bin and have found equal success. I would recommend keeping your compost bin somewhere dry and cool. Here’s 2 years of my families organic plant waste.
Over time, these organic materials will transform back into nutrient dense soil. This soil can be used to grow your own food or plants. This new topsoil will significantly boost the fruitfulness and growth of your plants at home.
Composting can be done anywhere. Even if you live in an apartment or dorm room, composting should be made a priority. Community composting centers are becoming more and more commonplace, as many cities have a composting facility accessible. This is a great alternative for those with absolutely no place for a compost bin.
I hope you make the earth a priority for the new year and every year. Composting is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint and change your relationship with the earth from a parasitic relationship to a mutually beneficial relationship. The earth has the amazing ability to turn our waste into beauty, but only if we are able to work with her.