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Addressing Food Waste and Improving Sustainability

Organics recycling begins with the collection of organic materials separate from the waste stream with the objective of minimizing the incineration and or landfill of those materials. Organic materials that commonly enter the waste stream include food waste, landscape and yard waste, non-hazardous wood waste, and food-soiled papers that are often mixed in with food waste.

The EPA reports that each year over 50% of the 167 million tons of the waste disposed of in the U.S. is compostable, with food scraps making up a significant volume of the compostable organic material in the waste stream. It is also estimated that over 30% of food in the U.S. (over 133 million tons in 2010) is wasted every year. Waste food is the second largest category of municipal solid waste (MSW) generated, making up about 15% of U.S. total MSW annually. However, after material recovery prior to landfilling, a process in which considerable amounts of paper and yard waste are recovered for recycling, food scraps make up more than 21% of the material that goes to landfill, making food the single largest category of landfill waste. Organics recycling programs are being developed to reduce the amount of organic materials in landfills.

Cities around the world are implementing programs to address the financial and operational feasibility of different organics recycling programs. Educating the public about practices, policies, and desired benefits is an important part of each program. Methods for achieving greater recovery of organics from the waste stream vary based on location, and range from providing backyard bins; organized services for collection of compostable material; and/or mandatory enforcement of organics recycling regulations.

Special thanks to research intern Meg Emory

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