There is an immense amount of food waste in this country. Around 30-40 percent of the US food supply is “wasted.” I put this in quotations because this statistic defines wasted as food that is not eaten: food in grocery stores that are past their prime are thrown into the dumpster; tomatoes on the vine or onions in the ground that are only partially rotten are picked and thrown off to the side. Given that 1 in 6 children in this country live in a state of food insecurity, this waste is a serious problem. Indeed, there are non-profit institutions that help alleviate this problem: Rolling Harvest, Philabundance, and Germantown Community Fridge are a few in our area that do great work. But in the grand scheme of things, the problem persists.
For our purposes, I’d like to expand the definition of “waste” to not only food, but also byproducts of food, things that we don’t really eat but come from the things we eat, like avocado skins, egg shells, and banana peels. By far, most uneaten food and byproducts of food end up sitting in landfills. Sometimes they are incinerated. If they are sitting in a landfill, they are undergoing anaerobic decomposition: meaning that they are piled on top of each other to an extent that oxygen does not come into contact with them. When piles of organic waste do not come into contact with oxygen, they degrade into methane, a greenhouse gas that is forty times more harmful than carbon dioxide. When they are incinerated, they just turn into methane right away.
When organic waste comes into contact with oxygen and has the right moisture levels, a beautiful thing occurs: microbes convert the waste into stable carbon compounds that do not escape into the atmosphere. When spread onto the soil, compost feeds plants, which in turn more effectively converts more carbon from the air into oxygen. What’s even more interesting is the fact that not only the plants but also the soil itself captures carbon from the atmosphere when organic matter levels are high. When all of this occurs, the “waste” is not really waste at all. It is just a part of a beautiful, natural, cyclical process.
If you’re inspired to start a compost pile in your backyard, let me know and I will help you get started. There are also some great companies in our locale who will pick up your food “waste:” Back to Earth Compost Crew, Bennett Compost, and Mother Compost are all doing great work.
I’ve said this in a previous email, but I’ll say it again here: if every farmer in the country added 1 inch of compost onto their soil each year for a couple years and every household composted their food waste, there wouldn’t be any climate change, and one of the major visions of Earth Day would be realized.
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