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Northwest Colorado Food Coalition: Reduce food waste, reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Winn Cowman
For Steamboat Pilot & Today

We’re currently feeling the effects of climate change here in the Yampa Valley, with severe drought conditions, the closure of the Yampa River, wildfires in our recreation areas and burn scar mudslides that shut down Interstate 70, causing congestion on Lincoln Avenue. The good news is there are ways we can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right here at home, and one relatively easy one is to reduce the amount of food we waste.

Food waste is a major contributor to climate change; in fact, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide. Food holds large amounts of embodied carbon from the food itself and the supply chain. From the energy used to grow food, transport it, refrigerate it during transportation and get food to our homes and refrigerate it once there, supplying food is a carbon intensive process.

There are a multitude of strategies to reduce emissions from wasted food, but the best is to avoid generating the waste in the first place. One practice is to buy what is needed for meals each day, rather than buying in advance, which tends to lead to buying too much. This may seem counter intuitive, but even taking into account fuel use for more frequent trips to the grocery store, it is better to purchase only what is needed daily than to buy excess food and have it go to waste.



Another strategy is to buy local food from our Community Ag Alliance (CAA) Market, open year-round, and the Main Street Steamboat Farmers Market, which eliminates many of the carbon generating steps in the food supply chain.

There are numerous things we can do at home to make sure food is consumed, like moving older items to the front of our shelves as a reminder to eat them first. Additionally, “sell by” or “best before” dates on food are not regulatory guidelines and are somewhat arbitrary from state to state. It’s better to use your senses, smell or taste, to determine whether food is expired.

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Parts of food that are typically thrown away, like broccoli stems and bones, can be used to make soup broth. Fruit peels are also useful ingredients in drinks and desserts.

If food must be thrown out, the best place for nutrient rich discards is the compost bin. Food is too valuable a resource for the landfill. The nutrients from food are best returned to the soil from which they came. Composting food waste keeps the nutrients in our natural systems, instead of the landfill, which is an oxygen deprived environment that turns organics into methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas.

Composting is the best kind of recycling because the end product is used right here. Many people compost in their backyards, while others prefer a service that collects their waste and composts it for them. There are lots of resources for backyard composting on the internet, and for those who prefer a service, our local composter, Innovative Regeneration Colorado, offers residential and commercial services. To learn more about the Feed for Seed program, visit their website at InnovativeRegenerationCo.com.

We each have a role in minimizing climate impacts in the Yampa Valley. Reducing food waste is a great start, with the added benefit of creating less trash with less odor, which keeps the bears away.

Winn Cowman is waste diversion director with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.


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