According to the USDA, food waste is the single largest contributor to landfills. Nationally, it’s estimated that about 133 billion pounds of food is thrown away each year. Homeowners can make a big impact by composting, recycling, or giving away food they don’t use, and there are some technologies that are making this easier than ever. Plus, in cities like Austin, local groups are providing incentives and services to households to make economic sense out of saving your food scraps. Below are a few things you can do to waste less food and create a healthier home.
New Adventures in Composting
Composting may be old fashioned, but it’s easy to do and it works. By mixing soil and other organic materials like leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass, even paper, and water, you can create a nutrient-rich soil full of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that you can use to boost your home vegetable and flower garden. The heat generated in the mix, combined with the earthworms and microorganisms that live there, do the work of breaking the food scraps down through a process known as aerobic respiration. There are several ways to put this science to work, from a pile in the backyard to various bins that can speed the process along.
By far the simplest way to compost is to create a pile in the backyard. To create your own pile, choose a spot at a distance from the house and preferably upwind. Things can get stinky quickly. You can simply build a pile on the ground, or you can hem it in by squaring off your heap with some wooden fencing. The secret to a great compost pile is the water and oxygen, which is why we recommend that you lightly spray your pile with water every day and turn it over with a shovel about once a week.
The downside to compost piles can be the smell and the potential for regular visits from raccoons, possums, and other critters. Old fashioned piles can also take a while to break down food scraps. If you want tidier compost that works faster, there is a wide selection of bins that can help you up your game.
Bins can range from Bokashi Bins to suspended barrels that spin to aerate and rotate your compost. The basic idea with bins—and why they work faster than a pile—is they keep your compost more compact while also providing full time aeration through ventilation holes. Some also have built in cranks that make it easy to turn your compost.
Serious composters often have a three-stage setup: the new pile, the active pile, and the ready for garden pile. You can build three side-by-side bins in the backyard or you can buy a three-stage bin, which is perhaps the most technologically advanced compost container on the market. If you’re planning on composting a lot of leaves and grass clippings in addition to the regular stream of kitchen scraps and other organic material, this beauty can’t be beat.
If all this sounds like too much trouble, never fear. You can still keep food waste out of the landfill by calling on a number of services to cart off your compostables every week. They function very much like the garbage and recycling services you probably already have; for a small fee these groups will provide a collection bin and happily haul off your organic waste each week.
In TreeHouse’s home city of Austin, Break it Down is an outfit that collects your compostables each week and brings them to Organics by Gosh, a composting facility in east Austin. Once there the team composts everything, bags it, and sells it to garden supply shops around town. Compost Pedallers performs a similar service, but with a unique twist; 100 percent of their compost collection is done on bicycles, and they bring the compost to a number of local farms and gardens.
If you’re in Dallas, Recycle Revolution has a drop off location in the Design District that is free to all residents. Just haul your latest scraps to their drop off, and they’ll do the composting work for you.
If you’d like to “dig into” food recycling a little more, TreeHouse is holding a free Composting Class in Austin on Saturday, July 15. Click here to RSVP. Attend the class and be eligible for the City of Austin Home Composting Rebate of $75 towards your own home composter!