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Should We Use Biogas or Composting to Solve Food Waste Problems?

compost biogas questionDid you know that when food rots without oxygen, it creates a greenhouse gas called methane? Methane is a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. If the food goes to a landfill and it deprived of oxygen, the methane releases into the atmosphere. It can build up and can cause explosions, sometimes it is burned off for safety. If the food is put into a composter, the aerobic process turns the wasted food into organic fertilizer. And if it goes to a biogas plant, an anaerobic (low-oxygen) process turns it into methane, which is burned in large quantities to produce electricity.

Approximately a third of edible food in the United States is wasted. This is around 20 pounds of food per person per month. It’s wasted at all points in food production: at the farm, in processing, in transit, at the store and in the home. The only part that most of us can control is in our households. Household food waste falls into one of several categories:

  1. It was edible, but we forgot about it, made too much, bought too much, didn’t plan ahead, people didn’t show up to eat it in time, went out to eat instead, took a weekend get-away, didn’t store it correctly, special food event was cancelled, or fell ill and couldn’t eat.
  2. It was edible, but we had a bumper crop in the garden. Didn’t freeze, can, store, eat or give it away in time.
  3. It was meat, dairy or oil that was wasted. It cannot be composted anyplace where a person or animal with a nose might walk by. It will stink and attract pests. Composting worms also hate this.
  4. Inedible parts of fruits and vegetables: tops, cores, rinds, peelings, etc.

With Category 1 waste, you have the most control. This is the type of waste you can really cut down on by planning ahead. You can’t control everything, but you can make a weekly meal plan. Allow for occasional meals out, social events, etc. Download a meal planner, make one on your computer, or just use a pen and paper. Many chain grocery stores have mobile apps that suggest recipes, make meal suggestions, plan your week and make a shopping list (with coupons and specials!). Find out how to store food and how long it’s good for – there are plenty of lists online. You may be under-estimating how long food lasts. Storage also counts: mushrooms in a paper bag last longer, for example. Note: Cutting this type of food waste can save you a LOT of money.

In Category 2, gardeners can be a victim of their own garden’s success. Too much produce? Ask around at local churches and community centers, and you may find food programs or people who would love your excess produce. Some enterprising gardeners sell the extras. Food banks might take it. Small, independently-owned health food stores might pay cash for organic or pesticide-free local produce. Walk around your neighborhood with baskets of produce to give away. Maybe another gardener would like to trade their extras for yours, if you grow something different. Store excess produce in the freezer, cans and jars by downloading instructions or looking in a book. Note: Selling extra produce is money right in your pocket.

Oily foods and dairy products in Categories 3 are especially expensive to waste. Make it your goal to use up every edible scrap before it spoils. Plan ahead and look up creative recipes. If the milk is just about to go sour, make pudding and it will get gobbled up quickly. When oily foods really are past their prime, you really only have two options: throw it in the trash, or send it to the biofuel plant (if available). Note: Meat and dairy are the most expensive items in many folks’ grocery carts. Planning ahead is crucial.

Category 4 foods – inedible kitchen scraps – make Red Worms very excited! Most of these scraps are easy for composting worms to digest. If you don’t have a composting program in your household, start one! Composting is faster when you use Red Worms. This is called vermicomposting. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm has the information, indoor composters and outdoor composters, and top-quality live worms to get you started. If you throw this in the trash, you are contributing to the problem of waste. If you compost it, you are making soil-building fertilizer for house plants and gardens.

With one in seven US households facing food insecurity, it is inexcusable to waste food. And wasted food should not bite us twice by releasing methane into the air, thereby harming the environment. Getting a handle on food waste in your household is a good first step. Composting inedible kitchen scraps means your home will send much less organic matter to the landfill. Be part of the solution by cutting food waste.

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