Three easy ways to stop food waste and shrink your carbon footprint
Ever wondered what happens to your food waste after it’s ended up in the bin?
Although we rarely think about food waste when we consider our garbage pile, leftover food and scraps account for about 20% of all municipal waste in several countries, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
But aside from taking up space in landfills, between 2010-2016, food waste contributed 8-10% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Globally, about 25-30% of food produced is thrown away during production and processing or by consumers.
The way communities manage food waste can make a difference in emissions and affect land and health. In 2013, WRAP, a UK charity focused on improving resource efficiency, found that not wasting edible food and drink would have the same impact as taking 1 in 4 cars off UK roads!
Feeling inspired? Let’s look at the most common solutions for food waste and how we can use our leftovers in sustainable ways.
It all starts with how much food YOU buy.
Did you know that households produce about half of the total food waste in the UK? The truth is most food waste could be easily avoided through wiser decision-making and meal planning. It can be hard to buy only as much food as we can consume, yet this single action would significantly impact our food: waste ratio.
Your municipality’s choices matter!
How does your city council manage food waste? Although we could substantially reduce our food waste, food scraps are inevitable and will always be there in large quantities. To figure out how to improve your carbon footprint, getting to know your town’s food waste disposal programme is a great first step!
… and there’s a huge variety of food waste solutions. Let’s look at the leading solutions for waste disposal implemented by governments. Globally, the dominant methods for waste disposal are landfills, waste-to-energy (WTE) incinerators, and composting. In the United States, more food reached landfills and combustion facilities than any other material in 2018.
In landfills, food decomposes over several years, giving off large amounts of CO2 and methane (as decomposition is anaerobic, that is without oxygen). As the food is placed together with all sorts of waste, it may take more time than usual to decompose. Although landfills have low first costs for municipalities, they may also contribute to soil contamination and water and air pollution.
Whilst waste-to-energy incinerators do generate energy without the use of fossil fuels, they also release large amounts of CO2 along with air and water pollutants due to waste combustion. Although recently-built incinerators can purify fumes, the presence of incinerators near an area of residence still means higher health risks to some extent (check out this recent report regarding emissions from London facilities).
Try these sustainable and non-toxic waste disposal methods!
Composting solutions offer a great alternative to landfills and incinerators for your food waste. Composting is a decomposition method for organic waste that uses air and produces nutrient-rich soil in several months. Composting has great benefits in reducing methane emissions and landfill waste. It also prevents the use and demand for fertilizers - another weighty source of greenhouse gases.
Anaerobic digestion is the natural process in which microorganisms break down organic material. It produces nutrient-rich liquid and solid waste known as ‘digestate’ and methane. It is a fast procedure, as complete digestion happens in 2 to 4 weeks. Once ready, digested food can be moved to a composting bin or a composting facility to become soil, while the containers can be reused for the next food waste loads.
Anaerobic digestion indeed releases methane; however, especially when food waste is brought to community facilities, methane can be collected as biogas and used for heat, electricity, and fuel. The European Union is the world leader in biogas electricity production, and new technologies for biogas treatment are still being developed.
So how do I get started?
Composting and anaerobic digestion can 100% be implemented both at the community level and at home. All this can be done at home, and while it requires a little effort upfront, it will create long-term results.
To start composting, all you need:
One or more composting bins
Biological waste bran - it looks like soil, but it’s full of special microorganisms (for indoors composting, many suggest worms)
Some outdoor space to store your compost bin such as a garden or a balcony
Nothing can stop you from starting your composting habit at home, especially if you’d like your garden or potted plants to flourish with a natural and homemade fertilizer! You can find helpful online guides and tips on which composting bin to choose or what methods you may want to use, depending on where you live and what you’d like to compost.
What if you don’t have any outdoor space?
Anaerobic digestion may be the one for you! Unlike what you may think, the process does not smell, or create dirt and is an easy way to manage your food waste indoors. With anaerobic digestion, you’d only need the indoor space to keep a small bin. After the first weeks, liquid digestate is ready every few days: this is a natural fertilizer for your potted plants - you can use it to unblock water pipes as well.
When you have your solid digestate, you could choose to give it to a neighbour for their garden, or bring it to a composting facility; either way, you’ll have made fair use of your food waste to help restore nature. Looking for support around you? Check out the Sharewaste app to find a neighbour accepting food scraps, digestate, or compost.
We can all make a difference
The more households are involved, the better, so, food waste collections, composting gardens, and community composting sites are good options, as they allow more people to get engaged in the process. Several startups recently got involved in food waste regenerating processes (check this one in New York for collection and this one producing fertilizers); you might have interesting initiatives near you as well!
While governments and companies are implementing new community solutions, we felt the need to remind you that you are the protagonist of your journey. Food waste can be your friend and taking care of it can be fun, and help you care for our planet. If you have any tips or want to tell us your thoughts about food waste management, join the conversation via our Instagram page, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.