Composting: Your Food Waste Doesn’t Have To Go To Waste

In the United States alone, in 2018, the total amount of municipal solid waste (MSW) created was 292.4 million tons, with about 146 million tons of that going to the landfill. By 2025, this number is expected to be nearly 2.2 billion tons. MSW includes all types of waste, and about 24% of MSW is food waste. Around 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally every year, with households contributing 11% of that (143 million).

Landfills are cost effective and efficient ways of waste disposal, however they are harmful to the environment. They emit two of the main greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming, carbon dioxide and methane. As of 2021, MSW landfills accounted for 14.3% of U.S. methane emissions. Food waste emits methane as it begins to rot, and is 26 times stronger than carbon dioxide. It is important to understand that landfills are contributing to global climate change by increasing the Earth’s surface temperature, therefore people need to take action to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.

Most food waste is compostable such as vegetables, grains, and fruits. Once it’s done breaking down, it can be returned to the environment as healthy soil, preventing harmful emissions like methane. Food breaking down in compost differs from the landfill because during composting, given aerobic conditions, the food breaks down by microorganisms. The presence of oxygen required for aerobic processes prevents the generation of methane which reduces the greenhouse gas emissions of compost. Over the course of four weeks, an American family of three can compost upwards of 32 pounds of food waste at home. This reduction in food waste from home composting equates to an annual reduction of 262 pounds of CO2, or 299 miles driven by an average car.

If you would like to begin composting, there are a few things to remember to make sure the compost is healthy. While there are different types of compost bins out there, the same general rules will apply. The Environmental Protection Agency, which gives information about home composting, says that all composting requires browns, greens, and water. Browns include leaves, twigs, or branches, and greens include grass clippings, vegetable/fruit scraps, and coffee grounds. There should also be a proper ratio of greens to browns to balance the oxygen and nutrients. A good ratio tends to be 4:1 (browns:greens). Moisture is also important, but not too much. Turning the compost will help with distributing the water as well as making sure the oxygen is also distributed evenly throughout.

Home composting is one of the most effective and cost-efficient waste management strategies that can be done to safely reduce food waste. In addition to reducing methane emissions, composting also conserves landfill space, reduces waste management costs, reduces soil pollution and erosion, improves soil nutrients, and eliminates possible diseases from the soil. To get involved or learn more, check your local area for composting programs or gardening clubs, or even check out this website for a DIY compost bin. If you lack space for a compost bin or pile, or are not allowed to have one, there are still options. This website has alternative solutions that can be helpful in situations where you want to compost but are restricted.