It’s crazy to think, but leftovers could be the answer to our problem. Let’s take a moment to imagine the life cycle of an orange. It grows from a seed to a tree, where one lucky orange is picked and sent to a grocery store. There you buy it, eat it, and throw the peel into your garbage can, where it sits and rots in a pile of trash.
Now let’s take a moment to imagine the potential life cycle of that orange. It goes from a tree, to a grocery store, to your house, where it’s peeled, eaten, and placed in a compost pile. Here it sits among some apples, coffee grinds, and yesterday’s newspaper until it’s turned back into the nutrient rich earth it once came from.
The unfortunate truth is that people are contributing their food waste to landfills every day, when the same food could be turned into compost. Compost leads to more food, more jobs, a more sustainable future, and less food waste. Whether it’s being done in your backyard or at some kind of facility, we’re overlooking a crucial component to reducing our negative environmental impact on the globe.
What’s Actually Happening in the World of Compost
Recycling has been a part of the conversation a while, but very seldom is food waste ever discussed. People feel obligated to recycle their plastic, but no one thinks twice about their egg shells. According to the World Bank’s 2018 analysis on global waste, ‘food and greens’ accounted for 44% of global waste while plastic accounted for 12%. Unfortunately, only 5.5% of this food waste was composted. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the United States alone throws out approximately 133 billion pounds of edible food each year. The problem is not how much food we have, but how it is distributed and discarded.
Currently, many cities offer a green bin used explicitly for yard trimmings. I looked into what this meant in my hometown of Los Angeles and found a convenient guide that lists: grass/garden clippings, wood, popsicle sticks and chopsticks all as potential contenders for the green bin. Fruits and vegetables that haven’t been prepared or consumed in any way were last on the list. This means peelings, seeds, and cores are not permitted, which doesn’t exactly eradicate the problem. The inside of the vegetable is not allowed, but the whole vegetable is? People should be encouraged to eat their food and dispose of the remains, not praised for letting the whole thing rot so it can be placed in the green bin. There is infrastructure for mulch created from our yard trimmings, so why hasn’t the same been done for composting and our food scraps? People are not seeing the monetary benefits that lie within compost.
Permaculture’s Circular Approach
Jonah, owner of the Monteverde Inn’s Ecohotel in Costa Rica, initially opened my eyes to the world of compost. Three years ago, he added a permaculture farm to the hotel in hope of enhancing the establishment’s sustainability. Permaculture is a design system that mimics natural processes in nature to create the most efficient and sustainable approach on agriculture. His system works like this: hotel residents dine at the restaurant and what they don’t eat is directly turned into compost that later feeds his garden and produces the fruits and vegetables on the restaurant's menu, which creates a circular loop of energy that makes the most out of food waste.
Compost, a combination of nitrogen and carbon, but more commonly known as: food, poop, and worms, usually scares away the public. This is where the conversation needs to change. As stated by Jonah, “People think of themselves as unnatural. They spend their whole lives running away from nature, but the truth is we came from it and we’re going back to it.” Compost is the key to food waste reduction.
Urban Agriculture and Accessibility
The biggest reason people don’t compost is because they don’t have access to a compost bin. Emmanuel Roux, the owner of the 15th St Agrihub in St. Petersburg, FL, is in the process of changing that. Nine years ago, he began growing crops on a vacated plot of land that is now flourishing. The Agrihub is in the process of creating a ‘community compost bin.’ The idea of the bin is to allow community members a space to easily drop off food scraps that will get placed in a bigger compost pile used by the Agrihub and community garden owners. This will not only continue the 15th St Agrihub’s contribution to urban agriculture and food production, but allow the city members the chance to minimize what they are contributing to landfills.
Compost and the Everyday Civilian
Here’s a list of ways you can make an impact through composting and waste reduction:
- If you’re fortunate enough to have a backyard or space suitable to make your own compost, try it out! As a result, you could grow a garden, share produce with your neighbors, and reduce your ecological footprint. If you need guidance composting classes are a great place to start and many organizations, like the EPA, have online step by step directions.
-If you do not have access to your own bin, look into local organizations that offer food scrap drop-off points.
-Volunteer at your community garden! If there isn’t one in your area, look into the possibility of creating one yourself.
-Eradicate the problem before it happens. So much of the food we buy in grocery stores travels hundreds of miles and sometimes gets thrown away before it makes it to the shelf. Growing your own food or supporting your local farmer’s market ensures that the food is grown sustainability and locally
-Buying smaller portions of perishable foods and meal planning are both great options to avoid contributing to our global food waste.
The future of the world depends on the future of food. What will you do?