We’re all familiar with the command that has been drilled into our heads throughout our childhoods: “Don’t waste food!” What often follows those words are instructions on how to serve yourself based on hunger, rather than appetite, or directions to finish everything on our plates before being excused. However, what happens when it’s too late? What are we supposed to do when we’ve picked at every part of our plate, but we still have too much left? Even if we save leftovers for later, what if we’re eating food that can’t be consumed entirely? Unfortunately, the destination of all the food we waste is a landfill.
When our waste is out of sight, it’s easy to be unaware that, about 400 annual pounds of food is wasted per person in America, according to Feeding America. This waste contributes to 21% of the United States’ landfill volume. What’s even worse, according to the EPA, “landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States,” which contributes to global warming and climate change. It has never been more critical to start conserving and reducing waste.
The news is not all dire because there are measures you can take to reduce the amount of waste in landfills:
Shop and consume smarter. Before grocery shopping, try making a list of what it is you need. When you make this list, you are less likely to buy too much food that will spoil and go to waste. Also, if you are aware of what you have at home, you’re not going to end up purchasing it again at the store. Once you have bought it, be mindful of its expiration date. Consume first the foods that expire the quickest. These are foods such as fruits, vegetables, dairy products and bread.
Make smart choices with food you’re not going to consume. Food that you are not going to consume but is not expired should be donated. Reader’s Digest offers some fantastic tips on how to appropriately donate food. Feeding America allows you to search for food banks near you. When food cannot be given away, compost it. Composting is the act of turning organic matter into something that fertilizes soil. Food naturally undergoes a decaying process, but this process is restricted by landfills. ThoughtCo. has an article on why food is not decaying in landfills, and the measures that can be taken to aid it. Composting at home is not hard. There are plenty of articles on what can or cannot be composted, and what to do with the decayed material. Amazon has hundreds of options for composting as well. According to the EPA, composting, among other things, lowers methane emissions and “…reduces and in some cases eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers” that have an adverse environmental impact.
I recently started composting, and I have not only found it to be incredibly eye-opening but also kind of fun. It’s satisfying to put the foods I’ve always felt guilty throwing away into the right place. When spring comes, I can use the material as fertilizer for soil, and develop a garden in my backyard! The amount of food my family crams into the small stainless-steel container on our counter always amazes me and has made us all more conscious of the food we are wasting. Composting is necessary for properly disposing of food that would otherwise be sent to a landfill, and serving as a lesson on the magnitude of individual waste. A tip for composting is to get biodegradable liners for the small in-house bin. This will make it easier and cleaner, to transfer the material to your backyard. Also, if you purchase a container with a carbon filter, there will be no stench.
Encourage others to follow in your footsteps. Remember, every small step you take towards going wasteless will not only have positive long and short-term effects on the environment but will inspire others to make the same smart choices. If you and your neighbor began composting, you could reduce food waste by up to 800 pounds a year! The more people that start composting and making smart decisions to reduce waste, the more significant the effect on the environment and climate change.
This blog was submitted to the Greening Forward Blog Competition by Jessica Cho.