by Peter Aronson
There are several ways to think about composting your food scraps. One way is to realize that by doing so, you are actually – honestly, truly – reducing your carbon footprint and helping fight climate change.
Another angle is that it’s a fun family project that can include the kids and also help the environment – and probably raise a few nostrils along the way. The rotting banana peels, egg shells, leftover spaghetti and rotten tomatoes, mixed and moldering in a plastic container in your kitchen, can produce quite a mighty stink. But a mighty, worthy stink it is.
Because, and this is a third way to look at composting: By doing so, you’ll realize how much food you are wasting. It is staggering how much food we buy and never eat. Staggering how much food our country produces that ends up being tossed into landfills, where it contributes mightily to climate change .That’s because we cooked too much food and had to throw away leftovers, or because the crackers or the cereal or whatever went stale in the back of the cabinet or because those hidden vegetables or fruit rotted in the fridge.
More than one third of all food produced in the United States is wasted – as in, never eaten, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the ripple-down impact of this shortfall is truly devastating for our society, in multiple ways.
Not only is the food wasted never eaten in a world where there are hungry people everywhere, but the waste is having a devastating impact on our environment. Worldwide, food loss and waste represent eight percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, according to that EPA report. This figure is derived from all the tangential waste associated with food- the wasted water and fertilizer used to produce the food, the wasted packaging used to pack the food, the wasted transportation used to transport the food and the greenhouse gasses (methane) produced when the food rots in the landfill.
According to studies, food scraps in a landfill produce 20 times the amount of methane as composted food scraps. And methane is quite dangerous. It accounts for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is bad enough – but it is 25 times as destructive as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, according to the EPA.
No wonder, then, that experts say we need to stop wasting food. According to the EPA report, 492 to 1,032 pounds of food is wasted per person per year in the United States. Digest those numbers for a second: 492 to 1,032 pounds a year, per person, per year, of wasted food – equal to 35 percent of the U.S. food supply.
As we try to break old habits and reduce our waste, we are fortunate that New York City has been rolling out more composting programs in recent months. In October, Mayor Adams and the NYC Department of Sanitation began in Queens the largest curbside composting program in the country. The program, available to everyone in the county of more than two million people, has been hailed as a huge success. More than 12.7 million pounds of organic waste has been collected in three months, far outpacing the 2.1 million pounds of waste collected in seven districts in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan, where residents need to opt-in and go through multiple steps to participate.
The NYLCV calls on the Mayor to expand this program citywide.
And in the past few weeks, organized composting has arrived in upper Manhattan in the way of 45 Smart Compost bins placed on street corners. The orange metal containers, located in Morningside Heights, Central Harlem, East Harlem, West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood, have a scanning link on the front and invite you to download the NYC Compost App with your phone in order to open the bins to dispose of waste. Accepted items include all food scraps – fruits, vegetables, meat, bones, dairy, etc. – and food-soiled paper and plants.
Again, composting can be a fun project for a family. Find a container in your house that has a sealed top and daily place your banana peels, apple cores, chicken bones, leftover or uneatable anythings (oatmeal, bread crust, egg shells, rotten tomatoes, etc.) and place them in a sealed container and periodically make a trip to the composting bin.
“Since starting to compost I have become so much more aware of our food waste,” said Emily Russo, a Morningside Heights resident, who now makes daily trips to the composting bin on Broadway and 112th Street. “It feels truly empowering to bring our food scraps down the street and deposit it in the compost bin as part of a daily routine. And it has significantly lessened the garbage we dispose of. This feels like such a win-win!”
And, an eye opener. It makes you sadly conscious of the food you waste, and how you can take steps to change a bad habit and help the environment.
As New York City ramps up its composting programs, the city has organized dozens of food-scrap drop-off points throughout the five boroughs. A map of the locations can be found here.
Fortunately, more and more communities around the country are focusing on the importance of composting. The New York Times recently wrote about a community in the Columbus, Ohio, area.
These programs can’t come soon enough, as The Times also reported recently that in 2022, U.S. carbon emissions grew 1.3 percent from the previous year, even as renewable energy surpassed coal power for the first time in more than six decades.
With carbon emissions rising and signs of climate change all around us, that makes sensible, sustainable food purchasing and composting all the more essential.