Composting

Food Waste Diversion is Key to a Sustainable Community

By Lillianne Brown

Editor’s note: We’re happy to have this blog post from one of this year’s President’s Environmental Youth Award winners.

Over 20% of our country’s landfills consist of food we throw away.

When this organic waste breaks down in the landfill with other types of waste, it produces methane gas. When organic waste breaks down separate from the other waste in your composting bin, it creates carbon dioxide. Both methane and carbon dioxide are greenhouse gases, but methane is over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere. Plus, the compost created from the diverted organic waste is a nutrient rich soil that can be used to garden. Diverting food waste is important because it turns something usually considered waste into a resource, which also decreases the amount of emissions from landfills.

Our project, Zero Waste Composting, has worked with area businesses, restaurants and schools to help divert food waste from landfills. Reducing organic waste has had a significant impact here in Iowa City. Our landfill is able to now produce more compost for the community to use. More people are educated on why composting is important and how they can take part in reducing organic waste in landfills. And, it saves space in the landfills, is economically viable because it generates money for the landfill, and produces less harmful greenhouse gases.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

Students diverting food waste instead of throwing it away.

The diversion process and its benefits shouldn’t only be limited to our community. Many communities can get involved and help decrease the amount of food waste being sent to their landfills. Diversion can take place in homes, schools, restaurants and businesses.

At home, families can create a backyard compost pile that can benefit their garden. Food scraps, like coffee filters, egg shells and vegetable and fruit scraps can all be composted in a home composting area. Schools, restaurants and businesses can also start diverting their food waste. It’s an easy transition, with many third-party businesses willing to help. Most food waste, including meat and dairy, can be diverted when being sent to a commercial composting facility. The food waste is then hauled away to a composting facility.

Other cities and towns can learn from our successes and divert food waste from their landfills as well. Communities should start by contacting their local landfill to see what options are available for organic waste diversion in their region. Schools, restaurants and businesses should then educate students, employees and consumers about the benefits of composting before implementing a diversion program. If a compost facility is unavailable in a region, communities can still divert organic waste by showing families how to create backyard compost piles and compost their home food and yard scraps. The model we used is simple, and many communities can implement it.

About the author: Lillianne Brown is a senior at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. She is a member of the Zero Waste Composting team and won the President’s Environmental Youth Award in 2014.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Combating Wasted Food: Good for the Environment, Good for Your Bottom Line

Here’s a really smart way for businesses – from restaurants to grocery store chains to hotels and more – to boost their bottom lines: Reduce wasted food.

This week we’re holding a week of action on wasted food. It’s all about sustainability – environmentally and economically – and how we meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet the needs of tomorrow.

In 2012, the United States threw away about 35 million tons of food – more than any other type of waste going to landfills. When that wasted food gets to the landfill, it rots, generating methane gas – one of the most potent contributors to climate change. All of this waste also squanders the water, energy, nutrients and money used to transport that food.

At the same time, many Americans don’t know where their next meal will come from. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, in 2012, 14 percent of households regularly did not have enough food to live active, healthy lifestyles.

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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Let’s Talk About Feeding People, Not Landfills

We throw more food into landfills than any other material. A typical family of four loses about $1,600 each year by tossing out wasted food, which rots in landfills generating methane gas and contributing to climate change.

What can you do to reduce the amount of wasted food while you’re at home or at work? Composting, donating safe untouched food to local food banks, buying only what you need by planning your menus for the week, and using leftovers are just some of the ways you can help feed people, not landfills.

One in six Americans struggle to put food on the table. Donating your excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters can help those in need while protecting the environment.

To learn more, or ask me questions about what you can do, join our Twitter Chat on Friday, November 21 starting at 10:30 am ET. I will be joined by other Agency experts to answer your questions and share tips on how each of us can play a significant role in reducing wasted food. On Friday, use the hashtag #NoWastedFood and follow @EPAlive to participate in the food recovery conversation.

Food is too good to waste, so let’s be part of the solution and divert food from landfills.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Reduce Food Waste to Make a Difference This Holiday Season

The holiday season is almost here—a time to share gifts, food, and happiness with friends and family. It’s also a time to remember those struggling to make ends meet. This holiday season, consumers and businesses can make a difference by reducing food waste, which helps save money, feed the hungry, and protect the environment.

The facts are striking: Americans throw out a third of all the food we grow, harvest, and buy, costing the average family of four $1,600 every year. Not only do 25% of our nation’s freshwater supplies go toward growing food that never gets eaten; food waste also creates 13% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, there’s a lot we can do to reduce the food waste that’s costing our families, depleting our natural resources, and contributing to climate change.

Plan ahead—before meals, especially large meals at the holidays, plan out how much food you and your guests need and stock up accordingly. EPA’s Food: Too Good to Waste program offers families toolkits to reduce food waste and save time and money at the check-out line.

Store safely—properly storing leftovers keeps them safe to eat longer. Using individually sized containers makes them easy to grab for another meal later.

Donate excess—According to the USDA, 1 out of 6 Americans struggle to put food on the table. By donating excess canned and dried foods to food banks and shelters, we can help those in need while protecting the environment.

Compost food scraps— make waste work for you. Instead of throwing out scraps, composting keeps food out of landfills and provides valuable nutrients for your garden.

And before food ever leaves the shelves, businesses can play a vital role by joining over 785 organizations taking part in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. By keeping better track of food inventories and setting food waste prevention goals, businesses can lower purchase and waste disposal costs, avoid wasted employee time, and improve bottom lines.

Major organizations are leading in this area. Disneyland, MGM Resorts International, Nestle USA, and all the teams in the National Hockey League are just some of the participants in our Food Recovery Challenge. I look forward to seeing continued success as we follow through on our obligation to protect the environment and our fellow citizens.

This holiday season, let’s commit to reducing food waste so we can help feed the hungry, fight climate change, and save money. When businesses and consumers work together, we all win.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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NYC‘s First Family Promotes Composting

By Tasfia Nayem

On my Twitter feed this weekend, in the midst of cat videos and movie trailers, was another video, this time featuring NYC’s own First Family. In the minute-long look into the de Blasios’ Brooklyn home, we see the mayor and his family collect their compostable waste for curbside organics collection.

Almost one-third of the waste generated by NYC residents is compostable. That’s 1.1 million tons of waste (enough to fill Yankee stadium from top to bottom!) unnecessarily being sent to landfills every year. To combat this issue, the city adopted a pilot program under which the Department of Sanitation offers curbside collection of organic waste to select NYC schools, residences, and institutions. Under the ongoing pilot program, which is in effect until 2015, 100,000 households in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island can have their compostable waste collected right from their homes. Residents not currently covered by the pilot program can bring their compostable waste to many farmer’s markets and other local organics drop-off centers.

According to the NYC Recycling program, curbside organics recycling can help the city reduce millions of dollars in landfill disposal costs, achieve recycling goals, and reduce pests by storing food waste in special rodent-resistant bins. The city will then turn organic waste into compost which can be used to fertilize gardens, parks, and street trees, or into renewable energy which can be used to power thousands of homes.

“Recycling food and yard waste is a lot easier than people think,” daughter Chiara de Blasio reminds us in the video. Curbside organics collection not only includes food and yard waste, but can include meat, eggshells, and soiled paper products, including pizza boxes and dirty paper towels. All that’s involved is placing the compostable waste into a collection bin similar to those used for garbage and recycling pickup.

Though my home is currently not in the curbside pickup pilot area, I can only hope the program is fully adopted by the city. Making composting more accessible would let New Yorkers take easy steps towards decreasing the city’s footprint, preventing pollution, and fostering a culture of environmentalism in NYC. Until then, I’ll just be taking my compostables over to the organics drop-off center at my local farmer’s market on my weekly trips to splurge on local cheese!

Find out more about NYC’s organics recycling here.

Learn more about composting.

See if your home is offered curbside organics pickup.

Find an organics drop-off center.

About the Author: Tasfia Nayem is an intern working in the Public Affairs Division of EPA’s Region 2. She holds degrees in Environmental Studies and Biology, and is going to go home and start a composting bin.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Deep Impact

Research to support environmental justice is a priority for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. To highlight that important work, we are reposting the following from the Environmental Justice in Action blog.

 

By Gelena Constantine

Learning about environmental justice is much more than participating in meetings or sending e-mails. To fully understand what communities are experiencing first-hand, you have to experience it. That’s why I embarked on a learning opportunity with EPA’s Region 3 Philadelphia Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice (OECEJ) last summer to learn how the elements of environmental justice, science, and technology coalesce in communities.

My first day consisted of the typical introductions. I met with the Region’s Counsel, Danny Isales, who advises OECEJ on multi-media enforcement issues, many involving environmental justice. At that time, Danny was providing input on a new enforcement case involving a compost center that takes in food waste and places it into large piles for composting. The size of the compost and outdoor temperature created an overpowering odor for the neighboring community.

Truck parked at a composting facility

Mountains of material waiting to be processed.

When I drove by the facility with other EPA personnel, the stench was definitely apparent from a distance, and I could see its proximity to the community. There were mountains of material that also included more plastic bags than I could count. We were followed and approached by a worker from another company in a pick-up truck. He inquired about our actions, and once we shared that we were from EPA and what had been reported, he proceeded to share his unfortunate experiences with the foul smell. According to him, “…depending on the wind direction, some days you’d be knocked off your feet.” It was interesting to see that it wasn’t just the residents that were being affected, but the neighboring workers were as well.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Deep Impact

By Gelena Constantine

Learning about environmental justice is much more than participating in meetings or sending e-mails. To fully understand what communities are experiencing first-hand, you have to experience it. That’s why I embarked on a learning opportunity with EPA’s Region 3 Philadelphia Office of Enforcement, Compliance and Environmental Justice (OECEJ) last summer to learn how the elements of environmental justice, science, and technology coalesce in communities.

Untitled-3

mountains of unprocessed material

My first day consisted of the typical introductions. I met with Regional personnel who discussed a composting facility which EPA was concerned may have been the source of certain odors in the neighborhood. Additionally, I was informed that the facility had been found out of compliance by the state environmental agency and had been issued an order and was fined by the state.

When I drove by the facility with other EPA personnel, the stench was definitely apparent from a distance, and I could see its proximity to the community. There were mountains of material that also included more plastic bags than I could count. We were followed and approached by a worker from another company in a Untitled-2pick-up truck. He inquired about our actions, and once we shared that we were from EPA and what had been reported, he proceeded to share his unfortunate experiences with the foul smell. According to him, “…depending on the wind direction, some days you’d be knocked off your feet.” It was interesting to see that it wasn’t just the residents that were being affected, but the neighboring workers were as well.

I thought that a compost center would be a positive addition to the industrial park it was located in and the local neighborhoods, but it turned out to be much more complex than that. I’d learned that the compost wasn’t being processed within an appropriate amount of time, partly because of the sheer amount, in addition to insufficient staffing.  The company was eventually fined by the state and they hired additional workers.

Residences in close proximity to the composting plant

Residences in close proximity to the composting plant

Next, I visited the office of The Clean Air Council, an EPA EJ grantee that works with communities in the same area. They have interviewed residents about their concerns with the compost plant to help enable the community to find a solution for this problem. When I followed up with the grantee several months later about their work with the composting facility, they shared that none of the residents wanted to speak against the company in court, and they were trying to figure out a way around that challenge. They were afraid of being victimized economically, as many of the residents are employees of the neighboring companies, or just fear in general fear of speaking out.

The community expressed the problem and worked to collaborate and communicate with federal and state government to fix it.  However, the momentum and power of holding the facility accountable and deter them from future mistakes were somewhat impeded because of fear.

My visit was extremely illuminating. There are many laws and technologies in place to assist in environmental justice efforts, but implementation and enforcement is not always clear-cut as one might think. My experiences helped cultivate a better understanding of what I’ve spent the last two and a half years of my professional career assisting the Agency and many other partners doing: Positively impacting human health and general well-being, people’s livelihood, their history and future.  It is gratifying to know that we are making a difference, and doing what we can for those whose voices sometimes go unheard.  Although not all problems can be solved completely, they can and must be addressed somehow.

For those who haven’t had a chance – especially those of us at EPA— I would highly encourage at least one visit to a community with real environmental justice issues. I’m confident it will be as enlightening and an invaluable experience for you as it was for me!

A relative newcomer to the EJ Community, Gelena Constantine works as an EJ Coordinator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.  She has worked with several NEJAC workgroups and EPA committees on EJ. 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Get to Know Your Bin

By Colleen Keltz

“We’re in the midst of our Earth Month celebration.”Let’s recycle everything in sight!

Whoa now. Sometimes I get a little excited about Earth Day. After all, there are so many ways you can celebrate Earth Day:

  • Volunteer as part of a neighborhood or stream clean up.
  • Start composting at home or join a community compost program.
  •   Do a bit of spring cleaning and donate, reuse, or recycle the items you no longer need.
  •   Re-familiarize yourself with your recycling bin.
In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

In DC, blue bins are for recycling and green bins are for trash.

Think you know what goes in your recycling bin? Well, I’ve lived in the District of Columbia for four years and I just recently looked at DC’s Department of Public Works website to find out what can and cannot go in my residential curbside recycling bins.

The curbside recycling program in DC is single-stream, meaning all recyclables (paper, glass, and plastic) go in the same bin. Pretty easy! After visiting DC’s residential recycling webpage, I realized I could recycle more items than I had thought. In DC, aerosol cans, yogurt containers, and empty over-the-counter medicine bottles can all go in the recycling bin. Great news!

Knowing recycling rules for your area is important because putting the wrong things in the recycling stream can decrease the value of recyclables and even break the equipment at the recycling center. You might be surprised by how different the recycling collection rules are from one area to another. And, you might be able to recycle more than you realized.

I also found out that my area has opportunities for residents to drop off household hazardous waste, pharmaceuticals, and used electronics, as these items require special care when recycling. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out what to do with odd items that you no longer need – like an old garden hose or used paint. If you find yourself with odd items after spring cleaning, take these steps to make sure the items are put to the best use possible:

  •  If the item still works, give it to a friend, host a garage sale, or donate it.
  • If it’s not on the list of regular recyclables in your community, check for special collection events.

As you approach this Earth Day with great enthusiasm, I encourage you to familiarize yourself with your community recycling program – you never know what may be able to go in that recycle bin!

Happy Earth Day!

About the author: Colleen Keltz began working for EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery in 2008. She’s been excited about reducing, reusing, and recycling ever since.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Upcycling for Life

By Mark Seltzer

With Americans creating literally millions of pounds of trash each year, and 135 million tons ending up in landfills and incinerators in 2012, I’m always looking to upcycle. I enjoy giving unwanted objects new life. Here are some of the interesting items I’ve made over the years out of objects that otherwise would have gone in a landfill.   Macquarium

Back in the day, my high school was discarding Macintosh Plus all-in one computers.  Determined to find a creative use for out-of–date computers, I built a Macquarium – a Macintosh computer aquarium. I took everything in the monitor out and replaced it with an aquarium tank and a filter.  See photos and specific details on how to make one.

Gardening and Composting

Composting is one way to upcycle your food waste, but you can build a composter with recycled materials too. I designed two composters out of reused materials – a tumbling composter with a recycled 35 gallon barrel, and a worm (vermacomposting) bin out of a reused plastic tote.

Reclaimed Wine Bottles

I’ve reclaimed wine bottles by building several prototype lights and pencil cups. These items can be found on my desk at EPA and can make great gifts.

winecup

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ski bench

I work part time as a National Ski Patroller at a local ski mountain, and I decided something must be done with discarded skis. Now skiiers can rest at the top on the bench I designed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Planters

I turned a tiny recycling bin into a mini “Zen Garden.”  I wanted a low profile planter and found that a cast-off recycling bin serves as a narrow planter in a high traffic walkway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lights! Bike Light

For a coworker and good friend who is an avid biker, I designed a bike floor lamp.  Certainly one way to recycle!

 

 

 

 

Repurposed Jelly Jars Lights

Jelly jars make great candles. Here are a couple with recycled (filtered) vegetable oil and a wick.   Currently, I’m renovating my house and donating things to a local building material thrift shop. I intend to reuse as much as possible for creative upcycling.  Here’s one gem from my house, a funky shower fixture.  Ideas for reuse? Coat Rack? Bookshelf? Stay tuned … I hope to write a blog post on my reuse ventures from house renovations.

 

 

 

 

About the author: Mark Seltzer works as an attorney advisor for EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention. During the winter months, he can be found on the ski slopes as a ski patroller at a local Pennsylvania ski mountain. During the summer, he can be found running, hiking, biking or canoeing along the Potomac.  

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Making Your Yard Wildlife-Friendly

By Lina Younes

While enjoying the fall foliage on a recent walk with my dogs, I noticed that the birds seemed to be chirping more than usual. Perhaps they were saying goodbye to their friends, who were starting their trek to warmer settings.

Since not all birds are migratory in nature, how can we help those species that remain in northern areas, even during the winter? Personally, I’ve always debated whether it’s better to allow them to find their own food or have bird feeders. I’m concerned that, by providing bird feeders, we might be making birds more dependent on humans and interfere with their feeding habits. Either way, greenscaping is a great way to create a natural environment that’s friendly to many animals, including birds, butterflies, and bees.

Here are some tips to help you create this welcoming environment in your own backyard.

  • Plant native trees, bushes and plants, especially ones with berries, fruits and flowers.
    When planting your garden, plan in advance.
  • Plant shrubs and trees that will blossom at different times throughout the year so our feathered friends and wildlife will always have food available.
  • Check with your local cooperative extension office or environmental authorities to identify plants that will attract birds and wildlife in your area.
  • Consider composting at home to enrich your soil without using chemicals that may be harmful to birds and wildlife.

Have you seen any interesting birds in your area this fall? Have you taken steps to greenscape your yard? As always, we love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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