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The Cost Of Food Waste


Zdenka Novak, a Recology employee contracted by Metro, pulls unacceptable plastic and cardboard out of the commercial food waste piles at the Metro Central transfer station.

Zdenka Novak, a Recology employee contracted by Metro, pulls unacceptable plastic and cardboard out of the commercial food waste piles at the Metro Central transfer station.

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

About 40 percent of U.S. produced food ends up in the garbage.

If food waste was a country, it would be third in line — behind the U.S. and China — as the world’s largest emitter of greenhouses gases. This has to do, in part, with what happens when rotting food hits the landfill. When food decomposes naturally in a landfill, it begins to release methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

More than 180 towns and cities across the U.S. offer curbside composting to businesses and residents in an effort to reduce the amount of food that’s going in the trash. Residents of these places can put food scraps, and some can even put non-food waste like pizza boxes in their yard waste bins for regular collection. 

This year, Seattle changed its curbside composting program from optional to mandatory. City trash collectors were finding that food scraps made up 20 percent of garbage bins despite city efforts to minimize food waste going to landfills. The Seattle city council decided they would fine residents a dollar every time they put food waste in their trash bins beginning in January 2015. Still, composting only makes a small dent in the environmental costs of food waste.

EarthFix reporters Cassandra Profita and Katie Campbell will tell us more about changes in city composting programs and companies finding innovative solutions to handling food waste in Oregon and Washington.

Composting greenhouse gases Recycling Methane Food Waste

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