Waste Not, Want Not Part II

What to do with food waste

Ayla Dunn Bieber serves up some science on food waste decomposition and points us in the direction of great resources for composting – even where space is limited…

In the last installment of our Sustainability Scoop we looked at some pretty crazy numbers regarding how much food is wasted in our country and some of the harsh effects this is having on our planet. A huge issue is that food waste that is thrown “away” gets trapped in landfills and produces methane gas – a greenhouse gas that the Environmental Defense Fund states is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the short term! You may ask: if rotting food in landfills produces methane gas, does rotting food in a compost pile do the same? The answer is NO! Thank goodness!

Here’s why:

  • Food waste that gets buried in landfills goes through a process called anaerobic decomposition or digestion, due to the lack of oxygen in the landfill. This means that the microorganisms that break down the buried organic material don’t need oxygen to survive. An unfortunate byproduct of their decomposition process is methane.
  • Food waste in properly aerated compost containers is exposed to oxygen, and thus undergoes aerobic decomposition. The little microbes that carry out this process use oxygen to do so and don’t produce methane as a byproduct – hurrah! In fact, the main byproducts of this process can be taken up immediately by plants. Bonus: if properly aerated, compost shouldn’t smell (unlike a landfill).

This is only ONE reason why composting is preferable over sending food to the landfill, but I think its a good enough one to start with. So, let’s not waste anymore time! Let’s get down to business and get composting!

If you live somewhere where you don’t have space to compost, you AREN’T off the hook. The easiest way to still compost is to set up a compost bowl or container in your freezer (use it as an excuse to clean out your freezer – if your freezer is anything like mine, it could use some TLC) and then take your bucket each week (or however often if fills up) to your closest Food Scrap Collection location. Here is a link to NYC locations. For those outside of the city, ask a friend who has a compost system if you can give them your scraps or check with a local farm/garden about their options. Also, most farmers markets have receptacles – check your local market today!

If you are interested in starting your own compost system, here is a beautifully laid out resource.

For those already composting – celebrate the good work you’re doing for our planet! For me, the next step is reduce, reduce, reduce.

Let us know about your composting journey in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Until next time,
Ayla

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