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Curbside Food Waste Collection – A Growing Trend

By Debra Atlas, Sierra Club Green Home

Almost half of the nearly 250 million tons of garbage that winds up in landfills in the U.S. each year could be composted.  An average single-family household throws away about 45 pounds of food scraps and food-soiled paper every month—around 25% of total trashed materials! Sierra Club Green Home explores a growing trend that creates a viable alternative to this: curbside food waste collection.

Already over 160 communities in 16 states have implemented curbside food waste collection programs. “The growth trajectory [for these programs] has been increasing by about 50 percent for the past three years,” said Rhodes Yepsen, an organics recycling expert from biodegradable and compostable materials developer Novamont North America. “The number of food waste facilities in the U.S. is growing, and many yard trimming [compost] facilities are applying for new permitting to make the switch to food waste collection.”

Composting organic waste—like kitchen scraps and yard trimmings—can be recycled into valuable compost used to enrich soil in landscaping and road construction projects. It also helps reduce the amount of methane, a by-product of landfill and food waste, that’s released into the air. A report issued by the EPA in 2011 noted that composting all the food scraps in California, for example, would cut emissions by 5.8 million metric tons each year.

Supermarkets and restaurants can also make a difference by participating in these programs. “Supermarkets generate large volumes of organic [waste],” said Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. “And, combined with recycling programs for cardboard and shrink wrap, [they] can recycle more than 70 percent of the waste they generate.”

Leading the trend since 1996, San Francisco’s programs have helped to divert 80 percent of waste from its landfills, explained Robert Reed of San Francisco’s Recology, a resource recovery center in the city.  Over the past four years, Recology has seen an increase of green bin tonnage from 350 tons to 600 tons each day day! Reed noted that, over an eleven year period, San Francisco has reduced the tonnage going to landfills by 49 percent. “It’s the highest [percentage of diversion] in North America.”

Along with increased diversion, these programs produce a cost savings. With consumers reducing their garbage through food scrap programs, landfill waste collectors can reduce their weekly collections. In places like Portland, Oregon; King County, Washington; and several counties in Minnesota; composting programs have allowed a cut in weekly garbage collections to every other week.

Many towns provide kitchen scrap pails and encourage the use of approved compostable bags for collecting food waste. Some programs are “pay-as-you-throw”; others offer varied rates to customers.

For more information like what counts as food waste and what to do if you don’t have curbside food waste collection in your neighborhood, check out Sierra Club Green Home.

Food waste image via Shutterstock.

by Editor

Friday, February 8th, 2013 at 12:27
  • Mar 26th, 2013 at 21:27 | #1

    This is great, and I fully applaud these efforts. But can we also try not to waste so much food to begin with?

    Also, here’s an old idea on other ways to “recycle” food waste: the people in London during WWII did something amazing to respond to food shortage: neighborhood associations got piglets and fed them their food scraps. Food makes food…

    Urban planning should include community gardens AND animals (chickens and pigs are so easy to take care of..).

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