SaveOnEnergy says Americans waste about 31% of their food each year. Of that waste, 19% is vegetables, 14% fruits, and 2% eggs — all of which would be better suited in a compost pile rather than a landfill. But much like tossing any and all plastics into a recycling bin without knowing which types are indeed recyclable, the same pitfall must be avoided for composting kitchen waste. When it comes to composting, not all food waste is considered equal.
“Food scraps do not decompose properly in a landfill because the environment of a landfill lacks the basic components [for] proper breakdown, particularly oxygen,” said Andrea Schaffer of Slow Food Lake Tahoe.
“[Food] waste discarded in a landfill creates greenhouse gases, especially methane, which is harmful to the environment and climate,” Schaffer explained. “Composted food waste is broken down over a short period of time into nutrient-dense fertilizer that can increase nutrients in the soil, add to the biodiversity of the soil, [and] help the soil avoid disease and pathogens. It also helps the soil retain moisture, which is very important in dry climates like ours. It helps us grow healthier plants and more nutrient-dense vegetables without the use of synthetic fertilizers that wreak havoc on our environment and our health.”
Yet there is much more to composting than simply discarding food waste into a barrel, especially here in bear country. That opens another set of challenges because you certainly don’t want to entice Yogi and friends to raid the compost bin for a midnight snack. Right, Boo Boo?
There are several methods of home composting, the first of which is a worm bin with red wriggler worms to compost vegetable scraps in your house or garage. Keep in mind that if you’re composting properly, odor won’t be an issue. An enclosed tumbler, which turns the compost more easily, is another convenient choice.
A stationary composting system, like the one SFLT uses at its Truckee Demonstration Garden, allows you to add both greens (fresh food waste) and browns (straw, paper, grass clippings, dried leaves). The compost must be manually turned, and it is a good idea to check that it is reaching the proper temperature (135 to 160 degrees F) to ensure there’s no pathogenic bacteria growth. This is also susceptible to animal invasion. While covering it with a lid might help, you must adequately ventilate the bin because compost needs oxygen.
“While there is no guarantee that you can keep local dogs, bears, or raccoons out of your compost, you can avoid this by adding the right amount of browns so that the compost does not have a smell,” Schaffer noted. “Not putting meat, dairy, or oily foods will also help with this. Another consideration for our climate is that outdoor composters are more difficult to use in wintertime, so it can be useful to have both an outdoor composter and an indoor
If you’re wanting to do your part to cut back on landfill waste, but just don’t have the time/space/motivation/whatever to start your own composting, Slow Food makes it pretty simple, and for a good cause, too. Added to the compost bin at the Truckee Demonstration Garden, your food waste will eventually find its way into the soil in which food that feeds neighbors in need will receive. In 2018, Slow Food donated 272 pounds of organic vegetables to local families through Project Mana.
To compost or not compost, that is the question: If you’re looking to get started, you need to know what can and cannot be tossed in the compost heap or bin. Think non-processed, whole foods like fruit and veggie scraps that are left over when you’re cooking: carrot tops, avocado skins, apple cores, banana peels, lettuce, etc. The Truckee Demonstration Garden accepts fruit and vegetable scraps, tea remains, coffee grounds, flowers, leaves, and eggshells. Items not accepted include bread, bones, meat, dairy, seafood, fats, pet feces/kitty litter, plastic, compostable cutlery, compostable bags or containers, tissues, paper towels, cardboard, leftovers, weeds, and anything sprayed with pesticides or herbicides.
The cancellation of the Truckee Sunday Farmers Market means there will be one less compost collection site this summer. You can still drop off your food waste at the Truckee Demonstration Garden, located at Truckee River Regional Park on Brockway Road, or at the rear entrance of the Truckee town hall. Designated bins are labeled at both locations. Scraps placed in the collection at town hall will be commercially composted. For further information, visit slowfoodlaketahoe.org or keeptruckeegreen.org.
Main Image Caption: SCRAPPED: Food waste added to the compost bin at the Truckee Demonstration Garden helps to create rich soil used to grow organic vegetables distributed to families in need through Project Mana, now part of the Sierra Community House. Photo by Wade Snider/ Moonshine Ink