Mark and I have been on a remarkable sustainability journey for the past decade. Every day, we diligently compost our food scraps and waste. Knowing that there’s a distinction between the two is important. Food scraps are the remnants of the meals we’ve enjoyed, while food waste represents the uneaten and discarded portions. It’s alarming to realize that a staggering 40% of all food in the United States goes to waste, generating a mind-boggling 135 million tons of emissions. This colossal problem stems from the food we never even savored but instead allowed to go to waste.
When we founded Homegrown Harvest in 2011, our mission was crystal clear: to live a more sustainable lifestyle ourselves and inspire others to do the same. We embarked on a journey of selling, installing, and nurturing raised bed gardens to encourage and educate people about the significance of growing their own food. I would often take the stage to deliver engaging lectures on gardening and composting, spreading the message of sustainability far and wide.
Composting, as we soon discovered, could be quite a challenging endeavor. It had its fair share of messiness, odors, and time-consuming aspects. If not done correctly, it could turn into a toxic mess, attracting critters from all corners of the woods. We initially followed the traditional cold process, mixing, mashing, and repeating, but it took an eternity to obtain usable compost. Winter posed another obstacle, making composting nearly impossible depending on where one lived. The barriers to ease and success were abundant, frustrating our composting ambitions.
“Composting is not only about recycling waste; it’s about creating life. It’s a way of honoring the cycle of nature and nourishing the earth that sustains us.”-Beth Ojczyk, Composting enthusiast
While running Homegrown Harvest, I constantly sought out companies offering sustainable solutions. That’s when I stumbled upon a great Canadian company that manufactured a game-changing machine called FoodCycler. No larger than a bread machine, this compact device could sit right on your kitchen counter, transforming food scraps and waste into compost. With FoodCycler, you can instantly replenish your garden with nutrient-rich compost. Collecting your food scraps and waste in the cast iron container, starting the process in the FoodCycler, the machine would heat the food, eliminating harmful molds and bacteria, and pulverize it into compost. The beauty of it was that even meat, poultry, and fish scraps were welcome, bones included. Vitamix acquired the company a few years back, revamping the design, and while we have yet to try the new version, it’s heartening to witness companies focusing on such innovative products. I’ve heard of another company called Lume with a similar product, but I have yet to have the chance to explore it. It’s incredibly inspiring to witness these companies addressing a solvable problem, offering consumers a tangible way to live more sustainably and reduce their carbon footprint.
During our early FoodCycler days, we were still raising three kids, two in high school and one living with us. As a family of five, our garbage output was substantial. However, with two FoodCyclers running daily, we found solace in having a system that worked for us before moving to New Hampshire. Given the local wildlife, harsh winters, and subzero temperatures, outdoor composting was simply out of the question.
Our town boasts an impressive recycling and refuse center, segregating our waste into at least eight categories. We separate burnable items, including food scraps and waste, aluminum foil, batteries, plastic, glass, cans, cardboard, and newspapers/magazines. This comprehensive recycling system occupies three of my kitchen cabinets and requires a minimum of two trash cans per room, even in the bathrooms. Everything that ascends the mountain eventually makes its way back down. By subtracting food scraps and waste, we significantly reduce the amount of garbage we haul to the dump each week.
It’s vital to understand that when food ends up in landfills, it generates methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. People often overlook this fact, assuming that since food is biodegradable, there’s no harm in tossing it in the garbage—it’s not like plastic, right? Unfortunately it doesn’t work out that way. The problem lies in the way landfills operate. Initially, food waste undergoes aerobic decomposition, releasing minimal methane in the first year. However, the trouble arises afterward when anaerobic conditions set in, and bacteria decompose the waste, producing copious amounts of methane as the food slowly breaks down.
Sadly, landfills and wastewater globally contribute to a staggering 67 million metric tons of methane emissions, accounting for 20% of all methane released. The climate impact of methane is significant, as it possesses global warming potential 25 times higher than carbon dioxide and is a whopping 84 times more potent in the first two decades.
The U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that throwing away just one pound of food results in a staggering 3.8 pounds of methane gas. Applying this calculation to our composting efforts, Mark and I conservatively estimate that we composted approximately 1.5 pounds of food scraps and waste daily, which adds up to at least 547.5 pounds of food per year. Over ten years, we prevented a jaw-dropping 5,475 pounds or 2,205 metric tons of food scraps and waste from reaching the landfill. That’s thousands of tons—tremendous amounts of sustainable impact. This equates to 20,805 pounds or 9.437 metric tons (10.4 short tons) of methane we diverted from polluting our atmosphere.
Nowadays, whenever I travel, a sense of guilt washes over me when I have to dispose of food scraps or waste into a non-compostable bin. It’s one of the simplest ways everyone can contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle and care for our planet. Our kids, too, have embraced the benefits of the FoodCycler, even using it in their apartments. They’ve discovered it’s cleaner than letting food waste sit around in the garbage can; even throwing the compost in the trash is a better alternative than filling the landfill. I hope more companies focus on creating manageable and affordable home composting solutions. Moreover, companies in the food industry should be held accountable for composting, considering the significant amount of food waste generated by restaurants and other food-related businesses. Adopting simple measures like these could result in a substantial reduction in methane emissions.
Renowned environmentalist Wangari Maathai once said, “In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.” Living a sustainable lifestyle is our opportunity to embrace this new level of consciousness and leave a positive mark on our planet for generations.