Living Green: The Big Waste Problem

Zero waste shopping and sustanable lifestyle concept, various farm organic vegetables, grains, pasta, eggs and fruits in reusable packaging supermarket bags. copy space top view, white concrete table
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When you clean out your fridge, you may notice leftovers gone fuzzy, or expired yogurt, or decaying fruit in the produce drawer. You may even feel guilty, as I do, about throwing it away. 

We all know how precious food is, even just subconsciously, but we may not realize how much we are wasting and how bad it is for the environment. By one estimate, nearly 40 percent of food produced in the U.S. is wasted, enough to feed more than 150 million people each year. 

A huge amount of land and water goes into growing our food. Fossil fuels power the tractors and chemicals used to grow it, transport it, process it, package it, warehouse it and get it to the supermarkets. Our food system is energy-intensive and, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, produces the same carbon dioxide emissions as 42 coal-fired power plants, contributing to global warming.

The EPA estimates that food waste makes up about 20 percent of municipal solid waste. The food that we toss into the trash is buried or incinerated. Burying food contributes to the creation in landfills of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Burning it contributes to air pollution.

Obviously, we need to stop wasting food. Growing your own food or shopping from local farms and businesses can reduce the emissions produced by trucking it over distances. Restaurants can offer smaller or half-portion sizes, and both grocery stores and restaurants can donate to hunger-relief organizations so that they can feed people in need. 

Keep a list of the food you have on hand. Make a meal plan to minimize food waste and bring your shopping list with you when you buy groceries. Label and date items in the fridge. Freeze leftovers, food that you may not be able to use up in time, or bumper crops from your garden (just try to label with date and contents so you remember what it is). Experiment with scraps. Save your bones to make broth. Use kale stems to make kale stem pesto. SavetheFood.com is a great resource with tips on planning, recipes and storage.

Once you’ve prevented as much waste as possible, what’s left can be composted at home, used as animal feed (chickens can be fed some table scraps) or sent to a recycling program for composting at a commercial facility.

The benefit of turning food scraps into compost is that it won’t produce methane and is a wonderful soil amendment. Not only does compost help plants grow, prevent soil erosion, reduce watering frequency and the need for chemical fertilizers, it can sequester carbon, as well. 

Here’s some great news: Beacon and Philipstown both plan to launch pilot food-scrap recycling programs.

As Jeff Simms reported in The Current last week, Beacon is starting a six-month program on April 15 to provide free residential food-scrap recycling at three drop-off spots (the Churchill Street parking lot, the Recreation Department and Memorial Park). It also has distributed 100 bins to residents for home composting. 

“We’re taking away any barriers to composting — the cost of a bin, not knowing how to get started, not having your own yard,” Faye Leone, the Climate Smart program coordinator for Beacon, told me. “People are enthusiastic about doing this as part of a collective. And once you start recycling your food scraps, you’ll never see them as trash again.”

Email questions to [email protected] or visit bit.ly/beacon-sustainability.

Philipstown will be launching an eight-month pilot program to provide residential food-scrap recycling drop-off for 200 families at the Town Recycling Center (59 Lane Gate Road) on Saturdays starting in May. Drop-off will be free but participants will be asked to purchase a startup kit. The pilot program “is an important first step,” said Karen Ertl, who is a member of the town’s Food Scrap Advisory Committee. 

You can learn more about the food-scrap recycling program at the Earth Day Fair from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 23 at Boscobel in Garrison. Or see philipstown.com or climatesmartphilipstown.org.

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