Under our kitchen sink a bucket keeps the white trash bin company. This 5-quart container is filled and emptied more often than the trash. Most of our food waste finds its way through the cabinet door to the compost bucket. On an average day there will be a collection of vegetable peels, fruit rinds, rinsed egg shells and peanut shells. Once full the contents are tossed on top of our backyard compost pile.
When looking at the household waste stream through the lens of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), food is one area where all three can apply.
Less food packaging is a way to reduce the amount of trash headed to the landfill. Eating takeout or prepackaged food from the grocery store means more material left after the meal. However, if clean, the bags and boxes can be recycled. Cooking from scratch also eliminates much of the packaging.
Beyond what it comes in there is the food itself. Of the categories in household trash, after paper, food waste is the largest component at 14.5 percent according to Recycle Nation’s website. Once at the landfill food waste produces methane gas. Reduce food waste by freezing, preserving or canning.
A home composting process keeps inedible food material out of the trash. The pile can be on the ground or in a container. There should be greens (food scraps), browns (such as newspaper and dry leaves) and water. The pile needs to be turned and watered on a regular basis to promote decomposition. A compost pile may include: fruits and vegetables, bread, pizza crusts, baked items, pasta, oatmeal and other grain products, crushed egg shells, coffee and filters, tea and tea bags. Citrus may be included though too much can kill off good bacteria. Throw away meat, seafood, bones, fats, oils, dairy products and hot peppers.
Food waste recycling is becoming more common on a commercial scale. A number of Alliance restaurants who recycle cardboard also recycle used cooking oil. A recent article by Daniel J. Munoz, NJBIZ, spotlights a bill signed by the New Jersey governor to strengthen recycling requirements for unused and wasted food. In his state, generators of more than 52 tons of food per year are required to separate food waste and send it to the closest authorized recycling facility within 25 miles.
The USDA says at least 40 percent of food is never eaten. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 38 million tons of food worth $168 billion is thrown away in America every year.
Equipment is available for companies to reduce food waste by more than 90 percent with recycling units onsite that compost in less than 24 hours.
The USDA explains food can be recycled into animal feed, compost and worm castings, bioenergy, bioplastics and clothing.
Recyclenow.com details two processes found at recycling facilities. In-vessel composting mixes food waste with garden waste then composts it in an enclosed system for 2-4 weeks. The material is then left outside to mature for 1-3 months. Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms in the absence of oxygen in an enclosed system.
While Keep Alliance Beautiful does not recycle discarded food, we encourage area residents to bring your clean food and drink containers to our trailers or the recycling center.