Reducing your food waste with compostingOct 29, 2019 10:29AM ● By Paige Slaughter
Four years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that “more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other single material in our everyday trash.” In fact, 22 percent of everything thrown away is food. At the same time, 42 million Americans live in food-insecure households and don’t have reliable access to enough food.
Put another way, a 2018 study found that American consumers wasted nearly a pound of food per person per day. That’s enough to feed 2 billion people every year.
All that food took 30 million acres of cropland to grow—which means 7 percent of cropland in the U.S. was devoted to growing food that was put into a truck, transported, handled, bought, sold...and buried.
These statistics are so bad, the U.S. Department of Agriculture made a goal in 2015 to reduce food waste by 50 percent over the next 15 years.
Why am I starting my garden column with depressing facts? Because the more connected we are to our food system—the whole system—the better neighbors, global citizens, community members and gardeners we can be.
The best part is that there are steps we as gardeners can take to reduce our food waste.
The mind of a gardener
As gardeners, we have a unique relationship with food. Growing food for ourselves, for family and friends connects us to food and highlights the interconnectedness of food to so many other aspects of life and society.
Gardening, as opposed to farming, keeps this relationship between food and ourselves unadulterated by the pressure of having our livelihoods depend upon it. We can closely watch the miracles of life that are infused in growing food. And yet, if we drown our tomatoes, or the chickens dig up all the garlic, we’ll be okay.
This unique relationship gives us the power to take into our own hands the kinds of issues that face us globally and to act upon those values in our lifestyle choices.
In warmer months, a great alternative to the trash bin is to compost food scraps outdoors. Maintaining an outdoor compost means the mess and smells won’t bother us and we can mix in grass clippings and weeds. In cooler seasons, though, composting becomes more difficult, and throwing out food scraps becomes tempting.
But consider this: Waste does not exist in nature.
In nature, materials transform, and don't go to waste. Plants and animals die and decay which facilitates new life.
Even when we don’t buy more food than we can eat, we will still have squash skins and apple cores to dispose of. If maintaining a huge compost pile through the winter is not an option for you, there are other choices.
Chickens, worms and city officials
Separating out fruit and vegetable scraps for a neighbor with chickens is a great way to minimize what goes into the trash. Another option is building a worm bin, also known as a vermicomposting system. Allowing worms to transform your kitchen scraps into vermicompost (a mixture of worm castings, organic material and bedding in varying stages of decomposition, plus earthworms and other living organisms) can greatly reduce your contribution to landfills. While traditional composting systems can be difficult to manage on a small scale, worm composting is low-maintenance and tidy enough to take place in your kitchen.
Learn more about vermicomposting in the wonderfully concise and straightforward book, "Worms Eat My Garbage" by Mary Appelhof.
Finally, we can turn to collective action. Contact a city official to ask about possibilities for composting and to encourage citywide food scraps diversion.
If we reach out to one another and consider the ways we might narrow the gap between our values and actions, we can ignite considerable change.