Turning food waste into gold

Food waste

Food waste (Photo credit: Nick Saltmarsh)

Click here for a Good Dirt Radio 5-minute eco-spot on food waste.

Waste not, want not, said grandparents and generations past. Life was simpler and most folks used their resources sparingly, avoiding excessive waste. Fast-forward to today’s spin-saturated, disposable, consumer America where almost all material goods made in the past 100 plus years have ended up in our landfills, including much of our food waste. But because natural resources are increasingly expensive to find and extract, waste is becoming commonly seen as a resource. Among the easiest of waste streams citizens can capture and utilize, is food and organic waste, which rot in our landfills, causing dangerous changes to the natural balance of the atmosphere. Join us to learn more about turning waste into a resource while helping reduce the threat of climate change.

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Read the transcript below.

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio, reporting on positive solutions…taking root.

‘Waste not, want not’, said grandparents and generations past.  Life was simpler and most folks used their resources sparingly, avoiding excessive waste.

Fast-forward to today’s spin-saturated, disposable, consumer America where almost all material goods made in the past 100+ years have ended up in our landfills, including much of our food waste. But because natural resources are increasingly expensive to find and extract, waste… is becoming commonly seen as a ‘resource’.  Among the easiest of waste streams citizens can capture… and utilize, is food and organic waste, which rot in our landfills, causing dangerous changes to the natural balance of the atmosphere.  Whether its composting good CO2 sequestering dirt, or feeding beneficial animals and plants, people are turning food waste into a useable currency and providing multiple benefits.

Laurie Guevarra-Stone is an Energy Engineer and Program Manager for Solar Energy International, in Carbondale, CO.  She works for clean, renewable food and energy systems and shares facts about food waste and its connection to climate change.

Guevarra-Stone:    The food we waste in this country is incredible.  In the US, we waste almost a hundred billion pounds of food each year.  So that’s, basically, over a quarter of all the food that is produced each year in the US.  And this creates huge environmental impacts for a few different reasons.  One, methane comes out of food waste that rots in landfills and methane is over 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide is.  And then, of course, the energy and materials used to transport all that food to the landfills and then all the energy that has gone into producing and cooking all that food that doesn’t get eaten. 

Wasted food packaging also contributes to climate change.

Guevara-Stone:  One third of all the trash in the US is packaging. We toss out more than 75 million tons of packaging each year and that just goes straight into our landfills. You know our food waste is not only outrageous because of the amount of people we could be feeding from all the food we are throwing away, but also the amount of carbon dioxide and methane that we’re putting into the atmosphere.  

Joel Salatin is a third generation organic farmer, a speaker and writer from family operated Polyface Farms in Shenandoah Valley, VA.  He was featured in the popular video, Food Inc. and says everyone can reduce landfill-bound food waste by fine tuning buying and cooking practices and that beneficial animals help turn waste into a resource.

Salatin:  In my view, every single kitchen and every single institution and house and restaurant should have enough chickens outside the kitchen to eat the flow of kitchen scraps.  There’s a town in Belgium where the town offered to buy, as many families as wanted them, three chickens for their households.  Two thousand families signed
up, they bought six thousand chickens and distributed them to the two thousand households and in the very first month, one hundred tons of compostable kitchen scraps, that used to go to the landfill, instead went into chickens that produced eggs.   

Alexis Baden-Mayer is the Political Director and Editor for Washington DC based Organic Consumers Association, a powerful advocacy group.  She lobbies for organic agricultural and environmental food standards, and says everyone, especially farmers and cities, can help sequester climate-changing gas by composting food and organic waste into healthy soil and plants, both of which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Baden-Mayer:  We need to turn this around and the best way to do that is to compost.  We need to compost individually but better than that, we need to get our cities to pick up our green waste and turn it into quality compost that can be distributed to local farmers to help those farmers get off of fossil fuel fertilizers. 

Salatin believes that health is everyone’s birth-right and that local lifestyle choices and common sense can change broken industrial food systems, offsetting climate change and providing jobs at the same time.

Salatin:  Ultimately, the choices that we make on a daily basis, they don’t need a government program, they don’t need new legislation, we can make those choices every day and one bite at a time, change the way the food system works.

Whether you are a homeowner or renter or live in an urban or rural area, everyone can find simple ways to conserve and reduce waste at home, at work or at your place of worship.

For more ideas on how you can help reduce the causes of climate change, please visit us at gooddirtradio.org.  Reports are always free to download and share.

I’m Tom Bartels… and I’m Tami Graham….  Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.

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