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Food Waste & Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

By Ted Wells



While I was growing up, my grandmother would always say, “You’d better clean your plate!” Then, she used any good food scraps to feed the dogs, and the rest went to help her garden with compost. It is funny how that way of handling food waste is coming back.

While we can help the climate by purchasing from local producers and producers that are publicly committed to reducing their greenhouse gas footprint, we also need to consider how we handle our uneaten food.



Did you know that the food waste we throw away causes about 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 20% of what goes into municipal landfills is food. We can all help the climate by reducing our waste and reusing our leftovers as compost.



Here’s the problem:


When we put food waste in the trash, it goes to the landfill and then produces methane in a process called anaerobic digestion. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and causes our climate to heat up. Methane is even worse than carbon dioxide because it is 25 times more powerful in heating up the planet. Composting can help this by working with microorganisms and eating the waste through aerobic digestion. This is in contrast to anaerobic decomposition, which occurs in landfills.

The chart below shows the differences in the heat-holding capability of the greenhouse gases produced during the decomposition of our garbage.


Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


The emissions released from landfills are comprised of roughly 50% CO2 and 50% CH4. The lack of oxygen in landfill decomposition produces methane (CH4). On the other hand, a compost pile decomposes aerobically with oxygen to produce mainly CO2.

So, if our garbage is going to decay anyway, you’d like it to do so into CO2, not CH4.


4 Easy Ways to Compost

There are lots of options for composting food waste and other materials. Some items like plastic-coated containers don’t work in composting because the microorganisms can’t digest the plastic. Ecocycle.org has done a great job coining the term ‘Dirty Dozen’ to keep food waste collection and composting safe for microorganisms.



Curbside pick-up


Here’s the good news: in many municipalities, we can send our food waste to be composted by curbside green waste pickup.


Curbside food waste pickup is fairly easy. Many paper-based food containers such as napkins, wooden chopsticks, pizza boxes, and ‘to-go’ containers can also be included. Be sure to follow the local directions on what can be put in the green waste bin. When sorting for composting, be sure not to include anything that will give the microorganisms that eat the waste heartburn. If your area does not have food waste curbside pickup, we encourage you to tell your elected officials to start one, as it will help reduce our carbon footprint and prevent landfill pollution.



Outdoor composting


A second option is to do your own

composting. Outdoor compost piles can work if you have the ability and the time to create your own compost. A great compost ‘how to’ slide show “Composting for Kids” by Robert Rickter is available on the Coolcalifornia.org website: https://coolcalifornia.arb.ca.gov/tip/waste-schools

and at







Worm farming

Indoor composting can also work. For instance, a small kitchen worm can farm to help eat your leftovers. Hey, a worm’s got to eat too! The MindfulFork website has a great article on worm farming: https://themindfulfork.com/worm-farm-composting/. In addition, The EPA has a great ‘how to’ on building and maintaining an indoor worm farm and how to create compost with food waste https://www.epa.gov/recycle/how-create-and-maintain-indoor-worm-composting-bin



Countertop Composting


You can also purchase countertop composters, like Lomi and Vitamix FoodCycler, which simulate and accelerate the composting process to turn your food scraps into dirt in a few hours. Check out this page for more information and options: The 4 Best Compost Machines of 2023 | Tested by Treehugger


Have Some Fun! Save the Planet!


If we can’t clean our plate each time, we can compost that food waste. Every pound of food waste that we compost reduces greenhouse gas production by avoiding the methane emissions created in a landfill. By continuing to lessen our contributions to landfills by reusing, reducing, and recycling food waste, we lower global greenhouse gas emissions and get closer to our goal to save the planet.


So, have some fun! Buy local produce. Buy from producers committed to reducing their production emissions. Use your local curbside compost pickup. And the most fun of all, start your own composting hobby. The choice is yours, and so is our ability to save the planet.


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