Composting: Rethinking Food Waste

Introduction: With the growth of the human population comes a demand for resources, an increase in consumption and consequently, waste. Greenleaf Communities understands the growing implications of waste – namely food waste. Consumer habits and food supply chain inefficiencies lead Americans to throw out the equivalent of $165 billion each year (Gunders, 2012). Considering the various inputs to food production, producing food requires 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, 50 percent of US land, and 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the U.S. (Gunders, 2012). ┬áNot only is food waste an economic loss, it is a detriment to the environment as well. Food that ends up in landfills releases large amounts of methane gas, a harmful greenhouse gas. Composting is a method that can be utilized to reduce the impacts of food waste by transforming organic waste into a useful product that can enhance soil quality and, in turn, water quality. What is Composting? Composting is the utilization of aerobic (oxygen-requiring) decomposition processes to produce organic matter, compost, that can improve soil health. The aerobic process is carried out through the activity of microorganisms naturally present in organic material. Optimal levels of oxygen, moisture, and food (e.g. decomposing food waste) create an ideal environment for microbes to thrive (USCC 2008a). These microbes break down material and release water, heat and carbon dioxide (CO2) in the decomposition process. The CO2 produced during this process is considered part of the natural short-term carbon cycle, and is not considered in greenhouse gas emissions computations (USCC 2008b). On the other hand, as organic waste piles up in landfills, it undergoes anaerobic...