There’s a common misconception that organic matter doesn’t have an impact when sent to landfill, because it will naturally decompose. This isn’t reflective of reality. Food trapped in landfill is likely to be buried and starved of the oxygen needed to aid the decay process, causing methane to be released in decomposition. Although methane has a shorter life span in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, its impact on climate change while in the atmosphere is considerably worse.
The collective impact of food waste sitting in landfill is colossal. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Food Wastage Footprint report, 2013 “If food waste were a country it would be the 3rd biggest greenhouse gas emitter after the US and China.” While food waste is a huge environmental problem, it is not an insurmountable one. Viable solutions do exist, and aren’t just for those who have large gardens and green thumbs.
No food disposal solution is better than reducing food waste at the source. Every item of food we buy represents natural resources consumed through production, storage and transportation. The first step should always be to reduce our food waste through meal planning, mindful shopping and sensible food storage. That said, there will inevitably be parts of food which are thrown away, such as cores and peelings. Finding a sustainable food waste solution means that the environmental impact of its disposal is minimised.
There are two ways to decompose food waste sustainably: aerobic digestion (where oxygen is present) is generally seen as more achievable at home. At the outset it’s important to understand that aerobic digestion is not emission free. While there’s a significant reduction in methane compared to landfill, the process does inevitably release some carbon dioxide.
Composting and worm farms are two well known, accessible examples of aerobic digestion. For those with the time and space to maintain one, this can be a great way to reduce the impact of food waste. It is possible to get a large discount on compost bins and worm farms through council schemes, and the compost created can be used to grow new plants.
However, a worm farm or compost bin at home may not suit every household. Not everyone has a need for the resulting compost and fertiliser, and not everyone has the time or space to properly maintain these options. Thanks to the power of social media, a new solution exists for those who want to dispose of their food waste sustainably, without the associated commitments. The Share Waste website lets locals who are happy to collect food scraps, team up with a neighbour who has a compost bin or worm farm. Donating food waste to a local person, who will ultimately use them to grow new plants, reduces your own carbon footprint while helping someone else in the community.
In anaerobic digestion, food decomposes in the absence of oxygen, releasing methane. This isn’t ideal when it happens at a landfill site, and the methane is released into the surrounding environment. However, under controlled conditions, it is possible to collect the methane as a useful bi-product, and turn it into fuel. This biofuel can be used in place of fossil fuels to power homes, cars and businesses.
Some local councils are starting trials in collecting food waste separately, and processing it through anaerobic digestion, to generate more sustainable energy. In the interim, for those not involved in these trials, some social enterprise projects such as Positive Waste are making it increasingly possible for anyone to see their waste turn into biofuel, for a small weekly fee. Those involved simply collect their food waste at home in a caddy, lined with a compostable bag. When the caddy is full, it gets dropped off at the nearest positive waste bin, and begins it journey to become biofuel. The second bi-product, nutrient rich fertilizer, is distributed to local farmers.
Donate your waste to someone else’s worm farm or compost bin using the Share Waste website. You can drop your food scraps off to them via private arrangement, so that your food waste gets turned into viable soil for growing new plants.
As an Inner West resident, there are discounts available to you when buying a worm farm or compost bin, so getting started is more affordable than ever. If you find that you have got capacity to compost more waste than you generate, you could also register on the Share Waste website to receive food scraps from likeminded locals who don’t have the space to compost at home. If you live in a unit block or shared housing, a worm farm can be more suitable. However, you can potentially still set up at composting at home, through the Inner West compost collective.
If you want to go beyond composting, and see your food waste get turned into renewable energy through anaerobic digestion, consider launching a community initiative to gain a bin for the Positive Waste movement. You just need to find 10 people in your area interested in using the bin, one of whom should have space to host it. You could knock on doors, use social media, or post flyers to generate interest amongst your neighbours.
Useful websites to help you get started:
Whether you’re taking the small, medium or big step towards disposing of food waste more sustainably, the following links can help you find a way forward that works for your family:ind out more about Methane vs Carbon Dioxide on the
Guest author: Cheryl Edwards
This article is designed to give an overview of different resources available to help you with the Every Little Step Climate Initiative. Neither Inner West Mums or the author can personally endorse the products and services mentioned, and we always encourage you to do your own research before deciding if a product or service is right for you.