Many years ago I was listening to a radio program about gardening; composting was the topic for that day’s call-in show. The moderator, a quick-witted and well-informed agricultural extension agent, took a call. “What can you do with food scraps if you don’t have a compost pile?” the caller asked. “Make soup!” the show’s host said.
Every time I visit a compost-less home it nearly breaks my heart to throw coffee grounds, eggshells, and leftovers in the trash. Not only does discarding food add to our already over-crowded landfills, it also tosses out opportunities to improve soil and grow more food. While I’ll never know if the extension agent was joking or serious about making soup, her answer got me thinking about all the ways we could recycle organic scraps.
Of course, the first and best way to use scraps is to make compost with it. Compost is a great product because it adds nutrients to the soil, improves the soil’s texture, and helps balance the soil—all of which makes food and ornamental plants grow better. Composting also reduces the cost and the pollution that come with trash hauling and disposal. You can make a compost bin or buy one that fits even in a small space. Many towns offer free or low-cost bins to encourage households to recycle their waste. You can also buy compost bins online at many different sites.
Recycling Food Waste
If composting is out of the question for you, consider these options for putting your waste to work:
1. Contribute your food waste to a neighbor’s compost pile. Look for gardeners in your area and ask them if you can add to their pile. Assure your neighbors you won’t add meat or fat, because they can attract animals.
2. Offer your waste to a local farmer. Even urban areas have farmers that bring their goods to town. Ask if they’ll pick up your waste or if you can bring it to their farm. It could be a great excuse to make a regular trip out to the surrounding countryside.
3. Recycle your waste at the town solid waste facility. Many towns have regular pickup of leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste, or you may have to take your waste to organic waste recycling center. It’s a great money-saver: Diverting organic waste away from its landfill saves the town of Amherst, New York $1.8 million annually. Find out what your town does to recycle organic materials and learn how you can participate.
4. Bring your scraps to work. Some avid gardeners set up compost buckets in their workplaces. If you work in a restaurant or school you may be able to add to their organic waste recycling. Participating schools in Massachusetts are saving about $1,000 a year by community composting, and restaurants are seeing their trash bills go down by 20%.
5. Feed chickens, pigs, or goats. While feeding weeds and kitchen waste to domestic pets isn’t a good idea, many farm animals will thrive on your scraps.
6. Start worm composting, which can be done indoors, even in an apartment. With worm composting, or vermiculture, you recycle food scraps into nutrient-rich compost.
Want to learn more about recycling food waste?
Check out the following websites for more ideas about how you can be part of in the energy-conserving and soil-building practice of recycling organic waste:
Use Local Harvest’s website to find farmers’ markets and family farms near you. Offer your organic waste to them.
Learn about composting at the Compost Instructions site.
Find out more about Food Scrap Management from CalRecycles.
Lynne Lamstein gardens in Maine and Florida and is currently working on a sustainable landscape. She has a degree in ornamental horticulture from Temple University.