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What a Waste: Why We Have to Stop Throwing Food Away

November 17, 2014

America’s food waste problem is gigantic. The EPA estimates that every year, we throw out 36 million tons of grub. That’s not just wasteful, it’s harmful to the environment as well. Food waste from landfills converts into methane, a potent climate change causing greenhouse gas.

Even though composting programs are becoming more prevalent, getting people to separate their food waste is proving difficult. Food still makes up 20 to 30 percent of what's in the trashcan in U.S. cities, making it the single largest thing we send to landfills.

In the Northwest, cities, towns and companies are taking some innovative approaches to this problem. They’re finding food waste doesn't have to be a total loss. In fact, it can be quite valuable – in making fertilizer or even fuel for cars, trucks and buses.

The Problem

The High Price of Wasted Food

Americans throw out enough food in one day to feed the entire Seattle metro area for two weeks. As the environmental costs of that waste add up, the city takes a new approach to keep food out of the landfill.

Curbside Composting: No One Said It Would Be Easy

Since Seattle and Portland began offering curbside composting, the cities have faced challenges from foul odors, lack of participation and plastic contamination.

Infographic: Breaking Down Food Waste

An infographic which summarizes some of the key figures and data points behind the issue of food waste.

Interactive: Measuring Food Waste And Its Impact

If you add up all the emissions from growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposing of food waste, it's a significant contribution to climate change. See where we're wasting food and how much greenhouse gas is released in the process.



Current Solutions

Curbside Composting 101: Try This at Home

A Seattle composting guru explains how to compost at home.

Sorting Out A ‘Fast Food’ Waste Problem

Taco Time Northwest, a Mexican-style fast food restaurant chain in Western Washington, found a simple solution to complicating garbage sorting --- they switched to all-compostable packaging.



Future Ideas

3 Ways to Turn Food Waste Into Energy

Compost isn’t the only option for making use of food waste. Several projects across the Northwest are proving that food waste can also be used to power homes, fuel cars, and run city buses.

Waste Racers

Motorsports aren’t usually thought of as environmentally friendly, but a new fuel is being used to offset their carbon footprint.

Grinding Up Grocery Waste

How a Washington company is turning supermarket food scraps into fertilizer.




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What you failed to address is the amount of water needed, at time, to make the food containers clean enough to add to the recycling. Water is precious, too. Sometimes I put something in the garbage, knowing it could go into recycling--cardboard container with light plastic coating, for instance--because I'd have to waste way too much water to get it clean.

This is ridiculous. Time, energy, and resources in the world we live are "scarce". For every additional hour a month I have to spend sorting, recycling, etc., is time that I could be spending with my kids (homework, activities) or my partner, or participating in other ways in my community. How many dollars are going to be taken away from feeding the homeless and poor children by fining people you miss an orange in their garbage?