Above: My stainless steel compost container for the Kitchen. I found it at the Salvation Army for $6.
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Thanksgiving Day in the USA, Hanukah, Christmas, New Year’s…these holidays and more are rapidly approaching. We all know what that means: joyful gatherings of family and friends, celebratory meals, giving thanks for the blessings in our lives, exchanging of gifts…andddd a significant spike in food waste! (Oh, the irony.)
As much as 40% of food produced in America each year ends up in the landfill. FORTY PERCENT. That comes out to around 60 million tons of food waste per year for the US alone. When the holiday season rolls around, the amount of food waste jumps significantly. WorldWatch Institute stated that Americans generate three times more food waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s versus the rest of the year. Let that sink in.
With the amount of people who go hungry every day around the world, along with the harm that organic waste causes the environment by being trapped in landfills and unable to break down properly, our food waste problem needs to be addressed both on a global scale and an individual level. I believe it is each person’s obligation and duty to reduce their personal food waste. This can be done by composting, meal planning, prioritizing leftovers, food swaps, and donating. Let me tell you, reducing food waste doesn’t have to be complicated or smelly or expensive. It simply takes commitment.
Above: I filled my counter-top composter 3 times in October.
Let’s start with composting, as it is the #1 way to fight food waste globally. I couldn’t bring myself to keep all my compostable waste from October in the freezer, only to take a detailed photo in my driveway that showed you every single peel and skin and scrap. My neighbors think I’m weird enough…
In October, I produced approximately 3 gallons (11 liters) of organic waste + miscellaneous compostable items. I don’t eat meat, dairy, eggs, or drink coffee (bleh!) That means I was composting fruit and veggie scraps as well and the occasional grains leftovers and bean leftovers. The non-food compostable items were waste that I didn’t expect to receive (i.e. at restaurants or work events) or waste that I declined but received anyway: cocktail napkins, toothpicks, parchment paper. Other compostables included paper cupcake / muffin liners, two paper sandwich wraps, and a paper chip bag: all purchases that I made consciously. There were times that I knew I didn’t have a waste-free option for meals, so I chose food options where I could compost all the waste.
Above: Horrible picture, but all of my non-food compostable waste from October.
Let’s be real: the word ‘compost’ can have a dirty, unpleasant connotation. Maybe some of you think of an unsightly, rank, infested pile of old food decomposing in the backyard… because that is exactly what I used to think of whenever I heard the word ‘compost’. I babysat for a family as a teen and that’s what their compost turned into: an open pile near the back door piled high with old food that never seemed to break down, smelled to high heaven, swarmed with all sorts of flies, attracted critters. While compost piles can be a very effective method, the family wasn’t tending to their pile properly so the food wasn’t decomposing. And I wanted nothing to do with composting after that.
When I discovered Zero Waste in 2015, I quickly realize how crucial composting was to a zero waste lifestyle: it redirects waste out of landfills, reduces harmful methane emissions from improper food breakdown, and returns valuable nutrients back to the Earth. Compost soil can be used in a backyard garden or for indoor potted plants, which saves money and reduces plastic waste by eliminating the need to buy bagged soil. Your local planet thanks you!
For a year, I kept my compost in the freezer and dropped it off at a local grocery store. Then, last spring, I decided to build a compost barrel and garden in my backyard and I have been composting at home ever since. I collect food scraps in a counter top container in the kitchen and deposit the waste into my compost barrel 1x a week. I combine food waste, dead leaves, grass clippings, and paper to ensure proper breakdown of the organic materials. I have no issues with rodents or smell, and the waste is processed inside of 5-gallon barrels. My food waste from April – November has produced around 10 gallons of finished compost soil for next spring’s garden.
If you are on the fence about composting at home, let me assure you that it is an amazing process that doesn’t require a lot of time and it does SO much good for the Earth and all of it’s inhabitants. And did you know that when tended to correctly, a compost pile will not smell?
Let’s cut to the chase: there really isn’t any excuse for allowing perfectly good food to go bad in our kitchens, only to be dumped in the trash or the compost bin. I do not say this as a smug, pretentious onlooker but as a guilty party. (Hi, it’s me, Guilty! *waves*) There are still times when I find food in my fridge that has gone bad because I forgot about it, I bought too much, I didn’t meal plan properly for that week, or I decided to eat out instead of eating leftovers. Did you know that on average, an American family of 4 loses nearly $1,500 each year in wasted food? Think of what you could do with that $1,500… yeaaaaaa, a lot of nice things. Like a bathroom remodel. Or a vacation. Or enough bulk almonds to make almond milk for a year. Or designing your dream zero waste pantry.
While my backyard composting system can handle nearly all of the organic waste that made because I eat a plant based diet, I often end up composting ‘just gone bad’ produce that I should have eaten but I just…didn’t. (Yup, guilty.) This past month, I forgot about a few sweet potatoes, a couple avocados, and a block of vegan cheese (to name a few items) and they all went bad right under my nose. So I’m working on a plan to help me send less food to the compost bin…
If you want extra help to reduce food waste this holiday season and beyond, there are a some great apps available for free. Be prepared for dinner parties and family gatherings by tackling food waste pitfalls ahead of time.
As individuals & communities, it’s time to tackle our global food waste problem head-on. Are you in?
If you are curious, here is all the landfull trash I created in October. It consists of a broken toothbrush holder (I’m a klutz), fragile stickers that the airport put on my suitcase, a checked bag sticker, a shipping label, a Lara Bar wrapper, rouge straws that I refused, assorted plastic bottle seals, produce and jar stickers, and receipts.