Food Waste

This is the first in a series ….

Instinctively most people do not think of themselves as wasteful, particularly when it comes to food.  But the sad fact is about 40% of food that eaters buy gets chucked in the garbage, or if available the organic collection stream.  We are not talking here about potato peels or those wilted lettuce leaves which account for a fraction of the total.  Experts who study household organic waste conclude that most of this food is not rotten, has not passed the ‘good before’ date.

Let’s step back and have a quick look at all the stuff that sits at the curb awaiting collection beside organics.  Great strides have been made in reducing the amount of residential garbage that is going to landfill thanks to successful blue box program, for instance, in Ontario.  Some municipalities have reached the provincial target of diverting 70% of household waste from landfill. 

For the last two decades the focus has been on getting those empty cans, bottles, jars, boxes and newspapers etc. back into the production of new products and packages.  This was accomplished with the will of government, and equally importantly, the participation of brand owners and retailers who were ultimately responsible for those left over materials.  New programs were developed to get the job done and funding models were created in Ontario so that recycling costs shifted from property taxpayers to consumers.   Product users pay for recycling. So that’s good but what about the bulk of the materials that are consigned to garbage bags?

You may be surprised to learn that the organic stream represents about a third of total household waste - this includes ‘kitchen’ materials and seasonal leaf and yard waste.  While these compostables represent a significant share of total household garbage that is set out for collection, past attempts to effectively divert it have challenged the best minds.  Mass adoption of backyard composting failed.  Composting takes education and dedication – it’s not a ‘no brainer’ as many disgruntled compost owners learned.  And besides, who wants to trudge out to the composter in the dead of winter?  So how to effectively divert the ‘yucky’ rotting organic material that does not belong in landfill sites?  Hence, the introduction of curbside organic collection programs passing on the composting job to large scale commercial operators.  All well and good, you might say.  At least this waste food is being turned into ‘black gold’ for amending soils and building gardens.  True, but what about the waste in embedded energy not to forget household expenditures?