Getting Rewards for Food Scraps

F Moreau Lille3 / Wikimedia
A home composting bin. New efforts in New York City are helping reduce food waste through compost while providing fresh food for those who cannot afford it.

The United States wastes about 40 percent of its edible food each year. Food is wasted at each stage along its journey—from creation and distribution through to restaurants and cafeterias. In fact, more food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other type of waste we produce, with household food waste one key contributor.

Many people think of food scraps as organic and biodegradable, and sending them to landfill is fine since they will break down naturally. However, when food scraps go into landfill, they are typically buried and, without oxygen, cannot break down properly. This produces methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide. Disposing of food waste also costs a significant amount of money—and this food could be used to create compost, or feed people.

Some cities in the United States have started to look at reducing the amount of food we send to landfill. San Francisco, Seattle, San Antonio, and Portland, Oregon have been composting since as early as 2009. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg introduced a composting scheme that kicked off this year.

In a city of eight million, a lot of food is wasted, and composting is a tough sell; for those living in apartments and high rises, composting requires a fair bit of effort. The challenge is even greater for low-income families, where getting the actual food is the concern, not what happens afterwards.

One innovative company, Hello Compost, has a unique idea to address these challenges in New York. The scheme lets low-income families exchange compost for fresh food credits. Families put their food waste into freezable, odor-blocking bags, which are then collected and sent to Project EATS. This New York based nonprofit weighs the bag, assigns a value, and families can then use these credits for fresh produce from local farmers. Credits are tracked via an iPad app. The bags, designed by students, are made of bright canvas to stand out against the standard black trash bags.

Not only do farmers get valuable compost for their crops this way, but the community receives support and fresh produce. It’s a great way to encourage people to compost, and to uncover the value of and importance in the food that we throw away.