“One of the simplest ways to combat climate change is to keep our food scraps out of the landfill,” says Deanna Simon, a zero-waste specialist for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. Food and yard waste comprises at least a quarter of our nation’s landfills, where it decomposes, releasing methane gas. Methane contributes to global warming about 70 times more than the carbon dioxide generated by burning fossil fuels.
Composting is one way to keep food waste out of landfills. But according to the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 3 percent of food scraps are composted. It takes some effort. And space.
But what if you could put your food scraps out on the curb—just like you do with your recyclables—and your community would pick them up and compost them for you? You can—in a few municipalities nationwide. (A handful of others are starting pilot programs.) Since 2004, San Francisco has provided weekly curbside food-waste collection. The program trucks 300 tons of food waste a day to a nearby compost facility, which then sells the fertilizer produced to nearby farms and vineyards. “This is a perfect example of how we can close the loop in just a few months,” Simon says. Seattle provides weekly pickup for 150,000 single-family homes. Curbside composting isn’t just in big cities: in Hutchinson, Minnesota (pop. 13,300), residents who use the pickup service and recycle have helped to reduce the city’s landfill waste by 75 percent.
So why aren’t more communities doing it? A new program takes time and money. But setting up a food-waste composting facility actually costs less than building a new landfill, says Brett Stav, senior planning and development specialist with Seattle Public Utilities. Plus compost can be sold to offset expenses.
If you’re not lucky enough to have access to one of these programs yet, consider composting at home. You’ll find the basics of getting started at epa.gov/waste.
By Tracy Frisch