Dear Umbra,

Are any communities collecting food waste — potato peels, meat scraps, corn husks, etc. — for recycling? Is there a market for such material?

Wendy S.
Far Hills, N.J.

Dearest Wendy,

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Yes and yes. Multiple communities collect food waste, in a variety of ways. Which is great, considering that food makes up about 12 percent of our garbage discards and is perfectly recyclable.

You don’t have to be hardcore to recycle food scraps.

The proper end to food scraps is rebirth as compost, wherein the nutrients stored in the foods will be returned to the soil and made available to the next generation of plants. You know, in one of those magical cycles of life. There are all sorts of similarities to be drawn between financial banks and the soil bank, mainly that if we keep withdrawing nutrients from the soil bank in the form of food, and then do not return those nutrients to the soil in the form of compost, we will have no nutrients left in our soil bank account. Then we have to buy nutrients on credit, via petroleum-based fertilizers, but the interest rate, so to speak, is punitive. I’ll stop my little metaphor there.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Humans don’t tend to value the soil bank as much as they do the money bank, but fortunately diverting food and yard waste from the waste stream also makes financial sense (and reduces landfill methane emissions, as previously discussed).

All that to say, there are food waste recycling programs across the country, from Stockton, Calif., to Wayzata, Minn., to Bowdoinham, Maine, and many other places. As far as I can tell, there is no curbside program in your state of New Jersey, but I did just find a Rutgers-based group that is hoping to instigate food waste recycling statewide, and — they hold forums! Do you like a nice forum?

These systems differ. Some are curbside pick-up programs, others are central drop sites. Some accept every food scrap including meat, others ban meat. Some separate food from other organic wastes, others accept food mixed with yard waste and soiled paper. The waste is then composted or, in some cases, used as an Alternative Daily Cover at a landfill.

I can personally testify that yes, there is a market for the end product. In Seattle, curbside yard/food waste is sold back to gardening citizens in the form of a high quality compost product.

An organization called Compostable Organics Out of Landfills by 2012 maintains a website with information and resources about this very topic, so if your query motivation was to begin your own program, COOL 2012 may be the place to start. Biocycle also maintains an interesting online database if you wish to search for composters in your area who process food waste.


Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free. All donations DOUBLED!