It’s garbage day, and you’re cleaning out your fridge. How much food are you throwing out?
Some estimates say the average American throws out 250 pounds of food per year. According to Feeding America, every year in the U.S., we throw out 108 billion pounds of food, the equivalent of 130 billion meals, and more than $408 billion worth of wasted groceries.
Gary Carrel is a solid waste recycling specialist for Erie County, New York. He says about 30% of a household’s total waste is food scraps, which includes pieces of food like vegetable stems, food that goes bad, and things we can’t eat, like coffee grounds. About 15% of household waste is yard waste.
Nearly half of that waste could be kept out of landfills by composting.
“Composing takes materials that would just be thrown out and turns them into a valuable resource that we can add back into our gardens,” says Carrel.
You might be surprised by just how much is compostable.
“Any kind of vegetable food waste. Not meat or fish, but any other kinds of food scraps are fine. The tops of your carrots. Extra pieces you’re cutting off your vegetables. Yard waste like grass clippings, leaves, any kind of yard waste, although I would say you shouldn’t compost your weeds because if you don’t get the temperatures hot enough, you’d perpetuate your weeds,” says Carrel.
With the right tools and care, “if you compost these materials, they become this enriching product that you add back into the environment. By using compost, you can cut down on the use of fertilizer that causes all sorts of problems for our water system because any kind of run off ends up right in our lakes and streams, exposing animals. The less fertilizers we can use, the better. It’s a win for everybody,” says Carrel.
If you’re interested in trying it out, there are a few things to know.
“Anybody can compost. But it’s not just throw your waste in there and walk away,” says Carrel.
The first step is to get a good compost bin, rather than throwing things in a pile in lawn, which will attract wild animals and angry neighbors.
Carrel adds, “You really have to keep on top of composting. You have to make sure you have the proper mix of carbon and nitrogen. That’s your browns and greens. You should have twice as many greens as browns. You have to stir your compost and water it. It should have the consistency of a wrung-out sponge.”
That means, “If you have a big party and a ton of fruit to compost, you’d have to have something to mix with that to balance it because that fruit could make your compost a little to acidic. You’re always paying attention to that,” said Carrel.
If you live in an apartment and don’t really have the space for a larger compost bin or want things to work a little faster, you can consider vermicomposting, which uses worms to compost.
“The waste the worms create from that is like gardening gold,” says Carrel.
Check out BFLO Worm Works for more information on getting started with vermicomposting.
But it is important to note, composting isn’t immediate.
Carrel says, “You could do it in three months if you’re really on top of it, but for the average person who doesn’t want to devote a lot of time, maybe once or twice a week, it will take about a year for you to have your compost that’s ready to go in the garden.”
If all this sounds like too much work for you, don’t worry. Several municipalities, including Buffalo, Amherst, Newstead and Akron, all offer composting services for residents. Some of them even have waste drop-offs at local farmers markets. There are other places locally that offer composting for a fee. Some have drop-off sites, while others will pick it up right at your front door. Check out more composting resources on Erie County’s website.