While the solid waste industry still has plenty of work to do to promote recycling for such common materials as cardboard, paper, metal, and plastic bottles, “trash folks” are increasingly paying attention to another sector of the waste stream: food.Food waste alone accounts for over 14% of the trash produced in households. Of all the food produced in the U.S., 40% is never eaten (!), and the vast majority of that wasted food (about 97%) ends up in the landfill.
This is a problem for several reasons.
First, despite the huge amount of food tossed every day, millions of Americans don’t have enough to eat. Arkansas in particular is one of the most food-insecure states in the country, despite being one of the greatest producers of food, indicating a real problem with distribution. Secondly, the production of food requires lots of valuable resources, including land, water, fertilizer, and often pesticides or herbicides. Using these resources to produce food that is never consumed is a massive waste in itself. Thirdly, food that goes to the landfill does not easily break down like it would in a compost pile. Without oxygen, the food undergoes a different type of decomposition (“anaerobic”), which produces methane, a powerful, flammable greenhouse gas that is very expensive for landfills to collect.
So, what can we do about it?
On July 7, the Arkansas Recycling Coalition hosted a Food Waste Workshop in Sherwood, Arkansas, with the intention of sharing information, ideas, and current projects throughout the state that are addressing food waste. Topics included the 2016 compost pilot in the City of Fayetteville, reducing food waste in school cafeterias, and dealing with excess food in hospitals. The common theme among all the presentations was the inclusion of the EPA’s Food Waste Hierarchy.
While actually implementing programs to prevent and capture food waste will be a long process, the hierarchy provides a good point from which to start planning those programs. It reminds us that although composting is better than landfilling, there are many even better uses of excess food. It also gives power to individuals (to YOU!) to take responsibility for reducing the amount of food waste produced in our homes in the first place. The Boston Mountain Solid Waste District supports the food hierarchy and encourages residents to take an active role to prevent food from filling our local landfill in Tontitown. Remember, #disposewisely, but first, eat your leftovers!