Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Food waste and local composting

Kate Brocato
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

Since 1974, overall food waste volume has increased by 50% in the U.S., which results in approximately 133 billion pounds of food thrown out every year. This amounts to 30% to 40% of our food supply, making it the largest contributor to waste placed in municipal landfills and a driver of human-caused climate change.

In landfills, food waste emits methane, a greenhouse gas with a warming potential that is 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and food waste is actually responsible for 25% of the methane emitted in the U.S. annually.

The pollution produced by wasted food is equivalent to the pollution caused by 37 million cars. When we throw out food, not only are we worsening our carbon footprint, but we are also wasting money, the water, land and other natural resources used to grow it, and the emissions produced during its growth, harvest, processing and transportation to the store.

While the first course of action must be to prevent the creation of food waste in the first place, we must also start thinking about how we can integrate climate action with needed human services. The answer to this issue in particular is composting.

According to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, “Composting is the aerobic decomposition of organic materials by microorganisms. It transforms raw materials — such as leaves, grass clippings, garden trimmings, food scraps, animal manure and agricultural residues — into compost, a valuable earthy-smelling soil conditioner, teeming with life.”

Through composting, the benefits begin with the emissions saved. The average U.S. household wastes approximately 620 pounds of food every year. If each household were to compost all of their food waste, this would result in 573 pounds of carbon dioxide avoided per year per household.

While composting helps avoid producing emissions, it is also an important carbon sequestration strategy when it is applied to land. Carbon sequestration refers to the process by which carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere either naturally or artificially and will be essential for reducing the effects of climate change. One study has found that if half an inch of compost were applied to half of California’s rangeland the annual emissions from California’s commercial and residential sectors could be entirely offset.

Economically, composting facilities create nine jobs to everyone one job created by landfilling the material instead, and by creating an end-product that is sold locally, we can keep money in the local economy longer.

When our food waste is transformed into compost, it can be applied to garden beds, landscaping and farmland. The application of compost helps build valuable topsoil, which is being lost at alarming rates every year due to intensive agricultural practices, overgrazing and erosion. Compost also retains more water, increases soil fertility, returns important nutrients to the soil, reduces the need for harmful fertilizers and filters out pollutants.

If you’re interested in reducing your own food waste and contributing to the benefits of compost creation, then you may want to start composting on your own at home or bringing your food waste to a local composting facility, like Innovative Regeneration Colorado. To learn more visit

Kate Brocato works with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.

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