Recycling is one of the most important activities we should be doing. It helps reduce our need for raw materials and it helps keep waste from hitting the dump, where it will conceivably sit and decay for the rest of its existence. One of the biggest contributors of this waste is food, with about 33 million tons of it hitting dumps in 2009 according to the EPA; the EPA is now estimating food waste represents the single largest component of solid MSW researching.
Even worse, this food is a major source of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the EPA notes, with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. Let’s see what we can do to prevent these emissions
Food as a Recyclable
Organic Matter that Supports Natural Systems
The first thing to note regarding food as a recyclable is that is organic matter. Specifically, as the EPA states, “Food wastes are the organic residues generated by the handling, storage, sale, preparation, cooking, and serving of foods.” This is, in essence, a note to food waste’s natural state of matter – it isn’t processed and doesn’t contain inorganic matter (most of the time, we hope).
So does that mean in terms of recycling? First off, food easily breaks down. Though this is a problem at a dump, where tons of other things are slumped on top of the food waste, creating something of a methane bed, in the yard or in a specific food dump this means a source of waste that breaks down quickly and efficiently.
Better yet, with food waste dumps, people have access to a source of waste that can actually improve soil quality and structure, reducing the need for artificial fertilizers and increasing the drought resistance of an area. This is a major issues in areas around, say, the Mississippi River where synthetic nutrient pollution is a major problem, weakening river beds and eventually filling the gulf and creating hypoxia.
Finally, dedicated a dump for food waste means better quality of life for us at home. Less rodents, putrid smells, and insects are all things homeowners, renters, and basically everyone else wants to see. As the EPA notes, a nice air tight bucket picked up once a week is an effective way of getting rid of all these problems. Improved sanitation for one’s family and community is always welcomed.
Other Benefits of Food Upcycling
Let’s say you decide to keep some of your own food waste. If that’s the case, many of the same benefits above will apply. For instance, if you have an organic garden or flower bed, keeping food waste means you’ll have access to highly nutritious fertilizers that will strengthen your soil and in effect your plants. Of course, if you’re looking to use this compost around food you’ll be eating, you need to pay attention to what it is you’re composting.
Determine the system of composting you’d like to employ, as that will determine what foods to use. Bokashi composting, for example, is able to breakdown meats and dairy by using an air tight container and microorganism. In a open area for composting, you wouldn’t want to use meat and dairy.
Considering all this, second guess yourself the next time you plan on tossing away that food. Reusing it in some way means getting better bang for your buck! Plus, Mother Earth can always use another helping hand!