This article was originally published in the Teton Valley News on February 6th, 2014. It is reposted with permission.
Did you know that food waste makes up the highest percentage of waste going to landfills? According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 21% of the waste stream is food waste. Wasting food wastes money, wastes resources, and, when sent to landfills, generates methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Composting is one solution, but it is actually close to the bottom of the food waste hierarchy. The EPA recommends source reduction first, followed by feeding hungry people, feeding animals, industrial uses, and finally, composting.
In the 1970s, archaeologist and University of Arizona professor William J. Rathje began excavating landfills to study human behavior. He found that Tucson residents discarded about 10% of the food they purchased. He also discovered that biodegradable waste, such as food waste and newspapers, did not biodegrade in landfills. In fact, newspapers and food that were decades old had hardly changed. Once deprived of sunlight and air, even food is unable to decompose in landfills.
Rathje also found that food waste increased rather than decreased during food shortages. He theorized that the increase was due to the human tendency to hoard when faced with an impending shortage, and to people purchasing food they don’t normally eat, such as different cuts of meat. Without tried and true recipes, unusual foods are either never used or the meals prepared with them aren’t well received. Tips for source reduction of food waste include sticking to foods you know and love, purchasing just what you need, storing food properly, eating older products first, finding secondary uses for excess food (such as making croutons out of excess bread), and serving smaller portion sizes.
After source reduction, directing excess food to people in need is the next best option. The Teton Valley Food Pantry accepts donations every Tuesday from noon to 1 pm. There are also drop-off bins for non-perishable items. If you have excess food that could be used by local families, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to see if donating it is an option.
Feeding livestock food scraps has the dual benefit of reducing waste and providing a protein source for humans. A hundred years ago, pigs used to roam city dumps across the country. With the influx of plastic and other toxic materials in our trash, rules for what can be fed to livestock are much stricter today. However, livestock can still be fed most kitchen scraps. Broulim’s, Victor Elementary
School, Rendezvous Upper Elementary School, and 460 bread all donate some of their food waste to local farmers for hog feed. Food waste that cannot be fed to livestock, such as coffee grounds, can be composted.
Do you or your business produce a waste product that could be reused, consumed by humans or livestock, or composted? Contact Teton Valley Community Recycling at email@example.com and we will help connect you with someone who can use your waste! The Close the Loop project is supported by funding from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley.
Tanya Anderson is the executive director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information, visit tetonrecycling.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
US EPA: http://www.epa.gov/foodrecovery/
Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair with Trash, but Edward Humes.