Have you ever thought about how much food your family wastes? As waste disposal becomes an ever greater environmental, health, and social issue, cities are looking for creative ways to reduce food and yard waste. From barbeque leftovers to the overripe tomato, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated in 2014 that 133 billion pounds of the available retail and consumer food supply went uneaten – at an estimated value of $161.6 billion. A US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study in 2014 found that food and yard waste together account for 29 percent of waste, most of which ends up in landfills or incinerators and contributes to greenhouse gases and poor air quality. Meanwhile, 50 million Americans were unable to meet their food needs.
Annie White at the Office of Waste Diversion of the DC Department of Public Works (DPW) notes, “Residential and commercial food and yard waste in DC adds up to over 230,000 tons annually. The Sustainable DC Plan [www.sustainabledc.org] has a goal of reducing total waste generation by 15 percent and increasing the waste diversion rate [the amount of waste that is diverted from landfills and incineration] to 80 percent by 2032. There’s a lot of effort going into achieving this goal, including an array of innovative programs already underway and others planned for the future.”
Start at Home!
Storing food properly can make it last longer. While spinach, kale, and chard tend to spoil quickly in a plastic bag, they’ll stay crisp longer when wrapped in dry paper or kitchen towels. Radishes and turnips will stay fresh for weeks when submerged in a jar of water, while wrapping onions in old pantyhose will keep them crisp longer. SaveTheFood.com provides excellent tips for preserving food by food type.
Canning, pickling, and dehydrating the season’s harvest will preserve the fresh and sweet taste of tomatoes, peaches, corn, and cucumbers all year long. Frager’s and W.S. Jenks & Son carry large assortments of canning supplies.
Individuals and families can pass along unused food through the DC FreeCycle ListServ (https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/freecycledc/info). Meanwhile, the nonprofit Food Rescue US picks up leftover food from businesses and delivers it to food pantries around the city. A convenient app allows organizations to donate or request donated food with just a couple of clicks. Some of Food Rescue DC’s regular food donators are Bread Furst, We, The Pizza, and Revolution Foods, while recipients include Martha’s Table, ThriveDC, and SOME, among others. According to Kate Urbank, DC site director for Food Rescue US, business is booming. Since its inception in October 2016, Food Rescue US has “rescued” over 68,000 pounds of food in DC alone. They’re always looking for volunteers to help move food around the District.
Sometimes, food just needs to be discarded. An Aug. 7 Washington Post story reported that DC hopes to start a citywide curbside composting program in the next five years. In the meantime, residents have several composting options.
- Did you know that there’s a year-round food waste dropoff every Saturday at Eastern Market (in front of the Rumsey Pool)? In fact, DPW now operates a food waste dropoff program in every Ward. See https://dpw.dc.gov/foodwastedropoff for a list of sites, schedule, and acceptable items.
- The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) began operating critter-proof/smell-proof community food and garden waste composting bins in 2015. Take a one-hour training and you’ll be able to drop off your food waste at one of 50 sites around town. More than a thousand residents are participating in this program and composting some 12 tons of food and organic waste every month. To learn more see https://dpr.dc.gov/page/community-compost-cooperative-network.
- Veteran Compost (veterancompost.com), Compost Cab (www.compostcab.com), and Fat Worm Compost (www.fatwormcompost.com) are just some of the companies that provide special-event, residential, and/or commercial pickup services in DC.
- Install your own compost bin. While this isn’t an option for everyone, it might work for you. There are a lot of backyard composting bin options out there, and with the right mix of “browns” (dried leaves, straw, wood chips, and/or newspaper) and “greens” (grass clippings and yard and kitchen scraps), odors and vermin can easily be controlled.
Food waste is such a big deal that even Congress is getting on board. Among other things, the Food Waste Recovery Act (HR 3444) introduced in June would standardize date labels and make it easier to donate food. But why wait for Congress to act when there’s so much that you can do to reduce food waste now!
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer, and a blogger for the DC Recycler, www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com, Twitter @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member for the DC chapters of the Sierra Club and Green America, but her perspectives are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of either organization.