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Composting Food to Reduce Food Waste

by Olivia Lai Americas Asia Europe Feb 28th 20224 mins
Composting Food to Reduce Food Waste

In a world where more than 10% of the global population faces hunger and malnutrition, a third of all food produced is thrown away every year. Food waste not only threatens food security and economies, but creates huge impacts for the environment, not to mention it is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, thus exacerbating climate change. There are many ways in tackling food waste, from reducing food loss throughout the supply chain to educating consumers when and when not to discard food. Households in particular, can help reduce food loss by taking up composting practices. Here’s why it is important to start composting food and reduce food waste at home. 

What is Food Waste? 

Food waste describes food that is intended for human consumption that is wasted and consciously thrown away by a consumer. While food waste can occur throughout the supply chain, such as food being lost in the farming and transportation stages, it mostly takes in households, restaurants, and supermarkets – produce for example, are often thrown out because they don’t meet certain aesthetic standards. 

This growing phenomenon has a number of impacts on the environment; discarded food often ends up in landfills, which releases methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, when if breaks down. If food loss were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter, behind China and the US. 

To keep up with our increasing demand for food, widespread deforestation and land degradation are taking place throughout the world to convert land for agricultural purposes. Fertile land are destroyed while natural habitats are persistently damaged, which result in biodiversity loss and cutting off the services that ecosystems provide. 

What’s more, we are wasting natural resources, from energy and fuel to water, to produce significant amounts of food around the globe, only for a third of it to be thrown away. 

While many countries are slowly recognising the importance of tackling food waste, it remains that in developed countries, more than 40% of food losses occur at the retail levels and in households. One accessible solution to this problem is to start composting food waste. 

You might also like: How Does Food Waste Affect the Environment

Composting Food and the Importance of It

Compost is an organic material that can be added to soil as a conditioner and fertiliser in gardens and farms, as a method to help plants grow. It is created by recycling organic matter, such as fruit and vegetable scraps, by allowing it to decompose over time. 

Compost is mostly made up of three basic ingredients: browns, which refers to dead leaves, branches, and twigs; greens, materials such as vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds; and water, to help with compost development. 

Food composting can be applied at all consumer levels, from restaurants to households. Individuals can easily compost a wide range of materials including fruits, vegetables, dairy products, grains, bread, coffee filters, eggshells, meats and even newspapers, instead of throwing them out in the bin. 

Making compost instead of throwing out organic materials can help reduce waste in landfills – about 37% of the world’s 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste is disposed of in some form of a landfill annually – as well as reducing amount of harmful methane being released into the atmosphere. As global temperatures have already risen by 1.1C compared to pre-industrial levels, many experts agree that slashing methane emissions is the fastest way to slow down global warming. 

Food composting also has many benefits aside from reducing one’s carbon footprint. The practice can help enrich soil by retaining moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests, encourage beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material, as well as lowering the demand for chemical fertilisers, which easily causes soil acidification and release greenhouse gases as a result. 

composting food How to Compost Food Waste

One of the key things in learning how to compost food waste is understanding what materials can and cannot be composted

These are materials that can be composted: Fruit, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, nut shells, shredded newspaper, paper and cardboard, yard trimmings, grass clippings, houseplants, leaves, sawdust, cotton and wool, and hair and fur. 

Materials that can’t: plastics, glass, metals, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, fats, grease, lard, or oils, meat or fish bones, animal faeces, and yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides. 

Next, is where to compost food waste. In homes that have a backyard or an outdoor space, composting can be done in a dry, shady spot, preferably near a water source. Collect your compostable materials to put them together in a pile – make sure to shred up larger pieces and wet dryer materials. Once you have a decent pile, grass clippings and other green waste can be added then, but  bury fruit and vegetable scraps under 10 inches of compost material.

If however, you don’t have access to an outdoor compost pile or live in urban areas, you can purchase compost bins and compost food waste indoors. If managed properly, these indoor compost bins should be odourless,, and the process should last between two to five weeks. The downside is that bins can be expensive, and it is easy to lose track of what food has been discarded. 


About the Author

Olivia Lai

Olivia is a journalist and editor based in Hong Kong with previous experience covering politics, art and culture. She is passionate about wildlife and ocean conservation, with a keen interest in climate diplomacy. She’s also a graduate of University of Edinburgh in International Relations with a Master’s degree from The University of Hong Kong in Journalism. Olivia was the former Managing Editor at Earth.Org.

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