Composting Saves Landfill Space, Enriches Gardens and Farms, and Helps the Environment

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Years ago, when Metro gave me my very own Curby, I decided to turn my old garbage can into a composter. I’ve been collecting and tossing my kitchen scraps in there and only occasionally removing some compost to enrich the garden soil, so it’s now about 75 percent full. And we’re about to move. So, I have to: a) figure out what to do with what’s in the bin currently; and b) stop adding more to it. After years of composting, it feels so wrong to flush scraps down the disposal or toss them in the trash.

It made me remember what it was like to work in food service and see tons of food — some of it completely untouched — get tossed in the garbage every day. If a roll goes out to a table and isn’t eaten, it has to go into the trash. I saw so much food waste. I know some restaurants donate their prepared but unserved food to various organizations, but I figure there’s still plenty of food that can’t be donated that still goes into the trash.

It so happens that a couple of weeks ago, I read a piece on NPR’s blog, The Salt, reporting that in Massachusetts, the government is working to address this problem, starting with the biggest producers of food waste: hospitals, schools and groceries. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for a ban on food waste disposal for institutions that produce more than a ton of food waste per week.

As of Oct. 1, these organizations will be required to donate usable food and send the remaining food to composting facilities or farms. The primary purpose of the regulation is to reduce the amount of space that food takes up in landfills.

Vermont and Connecticut have similar bans, but the Massachusetts ban is greater in scope and more ambitious. It is part of a plan to reduce solid waste by 80 percent by 2050. The NPR story goes into greater detail about waste-reduction initiatives that start from the source as well as the numerous ways that the food is being recycled, including usage as fertilizer as well as bio-gas.

I think it would be fantastic if Tennessee could initiate a similar program, particularly since we have so many farms that could benefit. It would also be great if more restaurants got involved in reducing food waste.

In the meantime, Nashvillians can begin to help by starting at home. Metro sells compost bins and has a number of tips to get you started. But my friend Meredith Hunter (yes, that Meredith Hunter) told me about Compost Nashville, an organization that collects your food scraps for $25 per month and then delivers compost to you twice a year for your home garden. The Compost Company offers similar services.

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