Get Rid Of The Green Stuff In The Back Of The Fridge
At some point throughout our month we all open our refrigerators to discover containers growing disgusting looking green stuff. We open them up and well, the smell overwhelms.
Americans waste more food than any other nation on the planet. A few years ago, The Guardian published a report that the United States throws away nearly 50 percent of its produce. The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) estimates food waste around 40 percent. At the same time, nearly 42 million Americans suffer from hunger.
In other words, while 1 in 8 Americans struggle to put food on the table, our country is wasting as much as half of our produce. Most of that waste ends up in landfills.
NRDC reports that the greenhouse gas emissions from food waste is equivalent to the output of 37 million passenger vehicles each year. Denver’s manager of Solid Waste Management, Charlotte Pitt, participated in NRDC’s report at the city level. A majority of food waste comes from residents, followed by restaurants and caterers. The report notes that if we reduced that by 30 percent, it would provide enough food for 49 million Americans. Yet about two-thirds of landfill waste consists of organic matter.
Just like food waste ending up in landfills, so does our yard waste. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that nearly 14 percent of solid waste comes from our yards. When food and yard waste goes to a landfill, it breaks down in an anaerobic (without oxygen) process that produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Methane, when compared to carbon dioxide, has a much shorter life in the atmosphere, making the reduction of this gas from landfills a viable solution for the climate emergency we have caused.
What Denver is doing
In June of 2018, the city released Denver’s Food Action Plan 2020, which includes goals of a 55 percent reduction in the number of food-insecure households, a 44 percent increase in number of community and school gardens and a 57 percent reduction in tons of residential food waste collected by the city. At the same time, the city received a grant from NRDC to prevent food waste, rescue surplus food for those in need and to recycle food scraps.
Many of the city goals align with the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy:
• Source Reduction: Reduce the volume of surplus food generated
• Feed Hungry People: Donate extra food to food banks, soup kitchens and shelters
• Feed Animals: Divert food scraps to animal feed
• Industrial Uses: Provide waste oils for rendering and fuel conversion
• Composting: Create a nutrient-rich soil amendment
• Landfill/Incinerator: A last resort
Denver piloted a project in the Highlands neighborhood, in which eight restaurants participated. The program provided support to get the owners and operators to think about ways to prevent food waste and to get food to organizations to feed hungry people. The city provided composting free during the pilot, which ended this June. The final data on the results are not yet available, but officials are confident it was a successful program.
In February, NRDC made an announcement regarding an additional grant to continue this work. In a nutshell, 10 Denver businesses and nonprofits have received funding to work toward reducing food waste.
Denver is working with many restaurants, continuing to provide resources and education on safe food storage, liability protection and how to safely donate unused, yet perfectly good food.
The compost challenge
How can you help our city’s efforts? Participate in The Denver Compost Challenge. The challenge began by community volunteers and neighborhood green teams to recruit residents to sign up for composting. According to the website, the goal of the program is the following:
• Increase the number of residents composting through the Denver Composts program or other options
• Decrease contamination in compost (and recycling)
• Build community and neighborhood connectedness
The challenge has been on since April. Residents have until November to sign up. In Greater Park Hill, our neighbors to the south are leading Denver neighborhoods, with 35 percent of residents composting. In north Park Hill the rate is 22 percent. In northeast Park Hill, the rate drops to 7 percent. One of the barriers to the program is cost. The city’s compost fee is $29.25 each quarter, which can prohibit participation.
Cash-saving solutions include home composting, worm composting and taking advantage of free drop off of compost material at the Cherry Creek Recycling Center, which is south of Park Hill at Cherry Creek Drive and East Jewell Avenue. Another solution is to share the cost of composting with a neighbor.
Denver’s composting website reports that as of early July the city has 20,084 citizens participating in the citywide composting program. Will our neighborhood help grow the number? What else can you do to help? Here are a few suggestions:
• Reduce your own food and yard waste
• Leave your grass clippings on the lawn
• Sign up for composting (denvergov.org/compostsignup)
Reducing food waste will be my personal September challenge. In addition to helping the planet, I will find less stinky green stuff in the back of my fridge. Join me by visiting SavetheFood.com to learn how to reduce food waste.
Tracey MacDermott is chair of the board of Greater Park Hill Community, Inc. Active in the Registered Neighborhood Organization for many years, MacDermott was the 2012 recipient of the Dr. J. Carlton Babbs Award for Community Service. She was trained as a Climate Reality Leader in 2017, and is currently the Statewide Co-Chair of the Climate Reality Project for the 100% Committed Campaign.