Did you know that food makes up the largest percentage of waste in US landfills? On average, we toss 40% of our food in the trashcan, where it ends up in oxygen-deprived landfills to sit for years – largely intact – producing large volumes of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. Not only is it harming the environment, and burdening our already overflowing landfills, but as a nation we are effectively throwing out $165 billion each year, when one considers the costs to grow, ship and dispose of all that uneaten food.
But there are simple steps that each of us can take to restore the balance and reduce the environmental impacts of food waste.
- We can start by buying less, and processing or preserving excess food when we have it, so that it can be enjoyed at a later date. Interested in learning more about food preservation? Join us for our free Modern Homesteading Preserving Workshop, September 14.
- If you find yourself with more than you can eat, share your bounty with those in need. With one in seven US households currently food insecure, reducing food waste can be as simple as donating food to the neighborhood pantry or making a home-cooked meal for a friend. While these steps require you to make small changes in your buying and eating habits, shopping and cooking smart can become second nature in no time and help to save you money and protect the planet. If you take these steps, you’ll find that far less food is headed for the garbage.
- Some amount of food waste is inevitable though, but that doesn’t mean it has to be destined for the landfill. A simple step anyone can take to further reduce food waste is composting. You can compost whether you own five acres or rent 500 square feet. Not only does composting keep food out of the waste stream, but it also provides you with a nutrient-rich soil additive that you can use in your home or garden, thereby saving you even more money in lawn care costs.
What is composting?
Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter into a nutrient-rich soil component called humus. Aerobic microorganisms do most of the work of breaking down your food and yard waste into healthy soil. While this process would happen naturally over time, composting helps to speed it up.
How to Compost (the basics):
At the most basic level, the only ingredients needed to start composting are organic matter (greens and browns), water, air and microorganisms. The microorganisms will find their own way to your compost pile as long as you provide the right conditions. The State extension office offers plenty of resources on backyard and worm composting to help get you started. Like this or this.
Consider organizing a composting project in your community. It is a great way to improve the local environment, develop skills, empower residents and build a stronger neighborhood. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance just published a report on the value of community-based composting, to give you the inspiration and tools to get started in your own community.
At the Accokeek Foundation, we have deepened our commitment to sustainability and stewardship by vamping up our own composting system to not only provide nutrient rich compost for the farm, but also to educate and inspire a passion for sustainability in others. What ways do you and your family help to reduce food waste in your community?
–Written by Heather Leach, Agriculture Education Manager