Composting 101: Personal Action

I did it again. Cleaning the refrigerator a few weeks after the family all left following the holiday gathering I discovered several containers of fuzzy stuff. We obviously had prepared too much food, put some in a container in the frig to eat “later” and forgot about it as it got shoved to the back, behind other items. I suspect you know exactly what I mean.  Food waste at home happens.  But with a small change in behavior, it can be reduced.

So now, what to do with that disgusting science experiment. Certainly not edible, at least by me. Should I put it down the disposal, trash it or compost it?

I was surprised to learn that decaying food that has been put in the trash is one of the largest producer of methane at the landfill. Regardless of the cause of climate change, the basic science still exists and each of us can reduce our contribution to the problem. Once you understand the role that methane plays in climate change, you can see why making a very small change in your food trash habits can have a large influence on the health of our planet.methane-cycel

Food waste has become a larger and larger issue in the United States since the 1970s. Not only do we forget about the leftovers in the container in the back of the refrigerator, but our purchasing habits contribute to this issue. Sometimes the opportunity looks great to buy the economy size of some produce, planning to put some away in the freezer for another day. But then we get distracted and within a couple of days that concept is no longer viable, as the produce is limp or spotted or even moldy.

It is an amazing and horrible statistic that 40% of all food purchased in the US ends up as waste.  A couple of minor lifestyle changes can help reduce that.

  • Consider shopping more often than once a week. Many cultures have farmers’ markets that operate throughout the year, permitting the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables in smaller quantities as needed for meal preparation. In those nations, home refrigerators tend to be much smaller than ours.
  • If you want to have the fixings for a salad, think about buying the mixture you want at the store’s salad bar instead of buying individual packages of veggies. You can opt for the specific items you want and the quantity you need.
  • Prepare a shopping list before you head to the market. Better yet, prepare a meal plan and then make up the shopping list. This will help reduce impulse shopping and also eliminate the issue whether you need a specific ingredient or not. (And help your food budget!)  I know I have been guilty of having several containers of yogurt in the frig and not being able to eat it all before the mold starts growing.
  • Recognize when older food is safe to eat and unsafe to eat. The “best by” and “sell by” dates used by food processors is not the day some magical event happens that makes the item turn bad for you. They are the recommended dates for the most flavor and perhaps also the highest nutrition. However, as I had to teach my own kids, the milk is not bad on that date. It is generally good for at least three or four more days. Learn to sniff and yes, sour milk is not pleasant, but throwing good milk away is wasteful.This milk, in my frig still on Jan 13, is still drinkable.
  • Keep a written food waste audit. Write down the food items you end up throwing in the trash for two weeks. This will help you understand that it is not just food you are wasting, but your money.

Another area where considerable food waste happens is at restaurants.  If the plate served to you is too much to eat, ask for a doggie bag.  Make sure to eat it or give it that day to one of our outdoor neighbors.  Restaurants along McMinnville’s 3rd Street are participating in a trash audit which helps them determine how better to presort food waste from recyclables from landfill trash. We’ll talk more about this in another blog.

Finally, when you do realize you have lost the battle of eating the fresh produce before it spoiled, instead of throwing it into your trash, start participating in McMinnville’s Zero Waste program by ordering a compost bin for biweekly pick-up.  Go to the Recology Website ( to reserve your bins.

This is the result of what a composting program produces, good for your garden! compost-for-your-garden

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