Simple Steps. Big Impact.
Food Prep: It can make a difference
The food you eat grew from soil, water, and sunlight.
The best way to give these nutrients back to the planet is by literally finding ways to get your food scraps outside where they can decompose back into the soil.
- Food scraps in the trash
- Food scrap awareness
- Tips for the lazy composter
- What do you do with your compost?
- What if you can’t (or don’t want to) compost?
- Resources List
- Comment on this article
There are a number of problems with just tossing your food waste and leftovers into the trash bin. This article from the EPA explains in more detail about this issue, including information on food recovery concepts like:
- what is food waste and where does it come from?
- sustainable food management
- saving money
- feeding hungry people
- conserving resources
Sound a little overwhelming?
Remember that the EnviroTips tagline is:
“Simple Steps. Big Impact.”
See how it feels to start with one step at a time.
Read through this list of ideas below and just pick one as a starting point.
Then set an intention to begin to notice your food – before, during, and after preparation – and think about where and how it grew and how you could give it back as your gift to the planet.
Notice your fruit and vegetable waste after preparing a meal:
- Learn about preparing parts of fruits and vegetables that you didn’t know were edible (like beet and radish greens) and that you normally dispose of
- Make soup or stew or smoothies with the scraps – you can freeze them till you have enough
- Some food scraps like crushed egg shells and coffee grounds can go directly into your garden to add nutrients to the soil
Compost them along with food waste and leftovers after the meal. Composting doesn’t have to be a huge effort and it truly gives back to the planet by replenishing the soil in your gardens.
- Note that home compost piles cannot break down oils, bones, or other meat scraps. Stick with fruits and vegetables in your home composter.
- Gardening Know How has a number of helpful articles about composting. There may be organizations in your city that host classes in composting. Do a web search for “compost classes in [your city]” and you’ may be pleasantly surprised!
In the Kitchen
Keep a large container in the freezer to store your food scraps until you have time to take them to the compost pile.
There is nothing more disgusting than three-day-old leftovers rotting in a counter top compost bucket to convince you and your family that composting is NOT going to happen. Solve this problem by keeping food scraps in the freezer,
Also, if you freeze the scraps, you don’t have to take them out in bad weather and don’t have to worry about attracting bugs in your kitchen.
And there’s no need to purchase compostable bags or any other single-use containers to save your scraps.
Take the rubber bands off your broccoli and the stickers off your avocado & banana peels before you toss them into the pile. They NEVER break down. And they’re especially slimy to try to remove after the peels have started to decompose. Seriously, a stitch in time is way less gross.
In the Yard
Have two compost bins located right next to each other so when the first one fills up, you can let it sit and decompose till the second one fills up. If you want to compost the lazy composter’s way, you don’t really have to stir it or aerate it – it’ll just take longer to break down.
Don’t place the compost bins right next to the house or along a walkway. If you’re not managing your compost following all the recommendations, you’ll have times when your compost is slightly out of balance – like when you put in the watermelon rinds from your summer picnic, but forget to put leaves or dirt on top. So you may have a whole bunch of happy insects buzzing around as those rinds rot. (By the way, watermelon rinds are a favorite of butterflies!)
Make sure you put the compost bin right on the soil and not on cement. It needs insects coming up from the ground to make the magic happen.
If you buy plastic bins, get the kind that have openings in the lid for rainwater to drain into the bin. Otherwise, you’ll need to run a hose in there every once in a while to keep the contents moist.
If you’re going to buy a manufactured compost bin rather than make your own, we recommend that you stay away from any that are designed to spin or tumble. That stuff gets really heavy and pretty impossible to spin after a few months of lazy composting.
Watch for critters nesting in the compost! If you have the kind of bin that is enclosed on the sides and top but open on the bottom, you may go out one day and find a sweet family of mice making their home! Some home compost bins have a rodent screen available to place on the ground and prevent this from happening while still allowing insects to come in. The voice of experience says, “Get a rodent screen!”
Keep your autumn leaves bagged up near the compost bin to use as your brown cover over the next year. Each time you dump your food scrap bucket into the pile, grab a handful of dry leaves to cover it. Works great to prevent odors too!
When it’s fully decomposed, your compost will look like rich soil.
You may have to filter it or pull out peach pits or other large items that haven’t broken down, but for the most part, it’ll be just rich, rich soil.
Let’s call it FREE FERTILIZER!
Spread an inch of it around your shrubs as top-dressing, add some to the soil around newly planted trees, or make a compost tea of it to water your plants. Here is a helpful article with other ideas: Old World Garden Farms and for you vegetable growers, check out this article from Mother Earth Living.
Before you just throw out all these amazing nutrients, check to see if your city has a curbside compost pickup.
Will any local gardeners or farmers allow you to bring them your food scraps? You could freeze your food scraps and make a compost run when it’s convenient.
If you can’t compost, is it better to throw the scraps into the trash or to put them down the garbage disposal?
Garbage disposal wins!
Food that is ground up in your disposal finds its way to your wastewater treatment facility where it can be turned into fuel like methane or fertilizer for your city parks. Eco Myths Busted explains in detail.
Once food scraps are sent to the landfill, they stay in the landfill and cannot break down; so make the trash bin your last resort.
- Sustainable Management of Food Basics from the EPA
- From Greenability.com: Take 10 easy steps to reduce your food waste
- From LiveStrong.com: Are Beet Greens and Radish Greens Safe to Eat?
- Plants & Shrubs That Like Coffee Grounds from SFGate
- From Gardening Know How: Composting Basics
- From Earth 911: 10 Weird Things You Can Actually Compost
- 32 Crazy, Unique And Even Odd Things You Can Compost from Off The Grid News
- 5 Foods Butterflies Can Eat (That You Can Enjoy Too!) from Life, Family, Joy
- 5 Ways To Use Compost Effectively In Your Garden and Landscape from Old World Garden Farm
- How To Use Compost from Mother Earth Living
- From Eco Myths Busted: Putting Food Waste Down the Disposal Is Greener Than in the Trash
- Do Biodegradable Items Really Break Down in Landfills? from ThoughtCo
So, we’d love to hear how you’re doing with the suggestions in this EnviroTip!
Please comment below and let us know what works for you and what you tried that wasn’t so successful.
Check out our other EnviroTips too!