Vail Daily column: Zeroing your waste
July 28, 2014
We in the United States generate a lot of waste — something to the tune of 250 million tons of trash every year. Even though up to 75 percent of that waste is recyclable or compostable, the country recycles an average of only 34.5 percent. The rest of the waste is transported to landfills that take up larger and larger amounts of space, and produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas that can be 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
It helps that recycling is getting pretty hip. Ask any child how they can help the Earth and it's likely that he or she will cheerfully respond, "Recycle!" Putting out plastic bottles and containers on the curb is important, but even as recycling grows, overall waste generation continues to increase at an even faster pace. To really "zero" our waste, we have to curb the amount of garbage we produce in the first place.
Prevent Food Waste
Nowhere is reducing waste more applicable than when it comes to food. Americans waste about $165 billion of food product annually. Disregarded food costs us each about $529 each year. I can think of better things on which to spend my money. Plus, food waste accounts for the largest component of landfill contents, creating as much greenhouse gas as 2 million cars.
County-wide composting may be a long way off for Eagle County, but composting in your own home need not be. The benefit of food waste going to compost rather than a landfill is that while food that decomposes in a landfill produces methane, food that decomposes as compost turns into carbon dioxide, heat, moisture and fertilizer.
Wasting food is a habit, but it doesn't have to be a hard habit to break.
Be a smart shopper: Plan a menu, purchase what you need for those meals, and avoid impulse buys. Food will stay fresh longer if it is stored properly. Fruits and vegetables, for example shouldn't be stored together since the ripening agent in fruits will spoil nearby vegetables. There are times when it makes sense to buy food in bulk, such as in the summer when fresh produce is abundant. Instead of throwing out what you can't eat, preserve these summer bounties. The Colorado State Extension Office will be offering food preservation classes this September in Eagle. Information can be found on the county website, http://www.eagle county.us.
Eat seasonally: If you have a garden, it is probably inundated with greens this time of year. Eat those salads now and save the pizza for the winter. If you have too many greens or other produce items, then consider preserving what you can and donating the rest to the Vail Valley Salvation Army in Avon. Make sure you contact them before dropping off items since they have limits on what they accept.
Infamous dish: Use one day a week to use up the leftovers. Can't think of any recipe that could possibly use all those odds and ends on the shelf? Throw it together, bake it and you've got an original casserole! Use leftover day to rearrange your fridge and pantry, moving new items to the back and items that need to be used sooner to the front.
Scraps: Scraps make great stock, sauces and gravies, but if you really can't use them, compost! Like recycling, composting is becoming more and more hip. So hip that some of the nation's communities have begun using curbside compost pickup — even mandatory in some areas. County-wide composting may be a long way off for Eagle County, but composting in your own home need not be. The benefit of food waste going to compost rather than a landfill is that while food that decomposes in a landfill produces methane, food that decomposes as compost turns into carbon dioxide, heat, moisture and fertilizer.
Even though you've heard it before, it always bears reminding — we should take care of our Earth as it's the only one we've got. Make an effort to reduce food waste. You will save money, protect natural resources and keep food where it should be — in our bellies and not the landfill.
Richelle Caya is a summer educator at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She is an Aquarius, teaches yoga and eats ice cream most days.