This article will be published in the Teton Valley News on August 6, 2015. It is republished with permission.
The average American throws away more food than plastic, metal, paper, and glass. In fact, roughly 50% of food grown in the US, gets thrown out. Food waste comprises over 33% of the waste stream nationwide (U.S. EPA), and nearly 2,000 tons of waste a year in Teton Valley alone! The negative consequences of all this food waste not only impacts your wallet—it also wastes money and resources of those who produce and transport the food and depletes our natural resources. When food waste is sent to the landfill, it produces greenhouse gases during transport and during the decomposition process. Methane, a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more harmful than carbon dioxide, is released by rotting food in landfills. Our landfills are the single largest producer of methane emissions in the United States and produce almost a quarter of America’s total methane emissions (U.S. EPA). Not only does food waste in Teton Valley get disposed of in a landfill, but it also has to be shipped over 50 miles to the Mud Lake Landfill, adding to the economic and environmental costs of garbage disposal.
You can help alleviate the food waste problem, however. Combined with conscientious purchasing and eating habits and donating food to those in need, composting is a highly effective way to reduce food waste, lower the environmental costs of food, and lower your garbage bill. Composting (nature’s way of recycling) is easy and inexpensive to implement and can provide your home garden, lawn, or houseplants with valuable and environmentally beneficial soil nutrients and minerals, without synthetic fertilizers and herbicides. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to benefit from a composting program. When your food and yard waste is composted, essential plant nutrients such as carbon and nitrogen are captured and broken down by microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi. The compost provides nutrients for microbial growth and activity, and eventually the nutrients are returned back to the soil for trees, grass, and other plants to use. The addition of organic matter to the soil also loosens heavy soils (e.g., clay) to allow better root penetration and improves the capacity to hold water and nutrients in sandy soils. Soil amended with organic compost helps desired plants grow and can help to out-compete weeds, too!
Excellent compost can be made from kitchen waste and yard waste such as leaves, grass, weeds, thatch, wood chips, and the remains of garden plants. Food items that can be composted include fruit and vegetable peels and seeds, egg shells, nut shells, coffee grounds, and any other vegetable or fruit scraps. Shredded office paper or newspaper may also be added to compost. It is important to never use any meat, fish, bones, cooking oil, fatty foods such as salad dressing and cheese, and melon rinds. These items could ferment and cause odors, which can attract rodents, bears, and other wildlife. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too. Unlike weeding, composting is a great lazy person’s gardening project, since it pretty much takes care of itself once you have a composting system set-up. There are a variety of composting methods. You can purchase a composting container or tumbler, or you can make a compost pile on your own using wire fencing or wood. A well designed bin helps to retain moisture and heat for your compost pile, helping to speed up the decomposition process. If you decide to use a stationary bin, locate it in a sunny spot. In our semi-arid climate, it is important to turn and water the compost to help speed up the process even further. You’ll know the compost is ready when you have crumby, dark soil that smells like fresh earth (usually within a few months).
To learn more about composting, join TVCR for an outdoor composting workshop on Saturday, August 15th from 9am-11am with Advanced Master Gardener, Al Young, at her farm “Bio-diverse Gardening.” The workshop is $10 per person and includes snacks and refreshments. Space is limited, so register early. Learn more and register by August 13th.
This workshop is made possible through grant funding from the Community Foundation of Teton Valley’s Youth Philanthropy Grant Program and Grand Targhee Resort’s Protect Our Winters Program.
Jen Werlin is the Executive Director of Teton Valley Community Recycling. For more information about waste reduction, reuse, and recycling, and/or to become involved with our community-wide efforts to reduce litter and landfill waste, please visit tetonrecycling.org.