Reducing residential food waste

As a small boy disdainfully eyeing my unfinished dinner I remember my visiting aunt begging me to eat the rest of my meal saying “remember all the starving children in China…” At the time her appeal struck me as inane but I still remember it. And today it seems to make sense.

While China these days seems to have enough food, many places all over the world do not. Malnutrition is common throughout the world with conditions in Gaza, parts of Africa and the Middle East being desperate right now. As an act of war, Russia has been intentionally destroying Ukraine’s agricultural land, in the process diminishing Europe’s food supply. As global warming and famine increase, food scarcity will worsen. Wasting food, therefore, is more and more becoming a global problem.

Nearly a third of our country’s vegetable produce is not eaten but thrown away or otherwise wasted and is the largest volume of material sent to our landfills and incinerators. When uneaten food decomposes in landfills it produces enormous quantities of methane and other polluting greenhouse gases.

For various reasons, 20% of American grown food is lost at the farm. Stores, restaurants and industrial kitchens throw out food that doesn’t sell. And in homes, many people discard food that’s still safe to eat, in part because “best by” labels can be confusing and don’t necessarily indicate when food is spoiled.

Reducing food waste for most of us might begin at the grocery store. Americans now consume more meat per capita than any other people. Probably the most effective way to reduce food waste would be to consume less meat and dairy products. especially beef. It’s not just household waste; cows require more land, water, fertilizer, medicine, manpower, etc. than other animals to became food on your table.. And as ruminants (along with sheep and goats), cows produce large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions through belching and farting, amounting to one third of all global methane emissions according to the EPA .

When we consider residential “food waste,” we need to think beyond just the food in our kitchens but also all the waste involved in producing and getting it there including the land, water, handling and transportation.

The World Resources Council reports that the average American family could save $1,800 a year were they to reduce their food waste by 20%. Making a shopping list may help in determining what and how much of various foods you actually need. Also, keeping the freezer and refrigerator at the optimum temperatures will help preserve leftovers longer. Growing your own food crops, where possible, will reduce waste and may save money.

Northwest Corner residents who have dogs, cats and other pets might save themselves some money by cutting back on packaged pet food and feeding their animals the family’s dinner table scraps, thereby cutting their food waste to nearly nothing. Standard “kibble” could supplement the “people food” when necessary to assure their pets high quality meals. Certain foods we eat such as chocolate, alliums and citrus fruit may be toxic to dogs; a prior consultation with the family veterinarian would be a good idea.

Several years ago I bought a backyard composter, a large metal barrel mounted horizontally on a frame with a handle to rotate the barrel and aerate its contents, thus accelerating the composting process. Unfortunately, the unit wasn’t robust enough for the corrosive compost materials and the unit failed. But I still like the concept and recommend some stronger version to those interested in home composting their food waste. A home compost pile is possible but requires some regular effort to turn the pile so as to ventilate the material to speed the decomposition and avoid producing methane.

For those with ample outdoor space, regular scattering of small amounts of vegetable waste in field grass, weeds or the woods works well during the warmer months; during the winter it still works but discarded material may be more visible for a while. Yes, it may attract hungry animals but they will leave behind their own wastes which will help enrich the soil. Scattered handfuls of corn husks are not likely to attract bear.

Nearly 30% of the waste that goes into the garbage dumpster at the Transfer Station could be composted. In 2021, the Salisbury/Sharon Food Waste Collection Pilot Program was begun by Barbara Bettigole and Brian Bartram. Once Salisbury/Sharon residents sign up, they may bring their food scraps to special bins at the Transfer Station and from there it is transported by Curbside Compost to a facility in New Milford where it is composted and then sold. Currently there are over 440 subscribers to the program but this number is expected to grow considerably with the addition of more town residents and local restaurants.

The Food Waste program provides special home use receptacles to facilitate residents’ collection and disposal. For information or to register for the program, contact The Salisbury/Sharon Transfer Station, (860) 435-5178 or email: foodwastepilot@gmail.com

Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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