We all create some food waste, even if we do our best to not buy more than we need, and eat everything we have.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food waste makes up about 22 percent of all discarded municipal solid waste. Most food waste that gets discarded in western Massachusetts ends up in landfills, where it produces methane when it breaks down. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
However, when food waste is composted it becomes nutrient rich soil, or it can be converted into clean energy at anaerobic digestion facilities. Diverting food waste can also save households and businesses money by reducing trash disposal costs.
Luckily there are a number of options for diverting food and organic waste from your trash so it becomes a valuable resource like compost, rather than getting landfilled and causing greenhouse gas pollution. Here are a few:
■ Compost it yourself. If you have a garden, composting your food waste can produce rich, organic fertilizer without a lot of work. You do have to put in a little effort and know the basics, however.
The main things are adding the right materials, giving the pile the right amount of oxygen and moisture, and alternating “green” nitrogen rich materials (such as food waste) with “brown” carbon rich materials (such as dead leaves, dried straw, and shredded newspaper or cardboard).
Two good resources on home composting are: http://www.sodgod.com/composting/ and http://www.foodwise.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Compost-ONLINE.pdf
■ Take it to a transfer station. Some transfer stations (including Northampton and Amherst) have compost bins where you can bring your food waste, as long as you have a sticker. Many transfer stations also sell home compost bins for a reduced price.
■Contract with a private hauler to collect it.
Pedal People collects residential compost by bike from many areas of Northampton and Easthampton. Check their website.
City Compost, based in Gardner, collects residential compost throughout western Massachusetts. If you sign up for compost collection you can also request free deliveries of finished compost.
USA Trash and Recycling (which took over Alternative Recycling and Duseau Trucking) offers residential collection of organics.
What about food waste from businesses? There is a huge opportunity for food service businesses to divert organic waste, and some in the area are doing it successfully.
Amherst Cinema recently began composting all food and compostable packaging. They set up bins with accompanying signs, and made a trailer that they ran before every film to educate patrons. Manager George Myers said the cinema is now disposing of more than twice as much compost as trash every day, and they hope to get the other food service businesses in their building on board with composting as well.
Cushman Market in North Amherst has been composting food waste from its kitchen since opening in 2006 — putting out 5 gallon buckets for people who wanted it for their gardens. They recently expanded their composting to include all food waste, and compostable cups, plates, cutlery, and straws used by customers. The only trash they dispose of are non-recyclable items such as wrappers and chip bags.
According to one of the owners, Pete Sylvan, the market and café is now throwing away only a quarter of the trash they were disposing of previously.
The upshot? Diverting food waste isn’t hard to do, helps the planet, and can also save you money. Go forth and compost!
Mimi Kaplan is the waste reduction coordinator for the Town of Amherst Department of Public Works.