There is no question that food waste is a monumental environmental problem and recycling food waste would make a significant dent in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The barrier to food waste recycling isn’t so much about people’s willingness to compost. The willingness is there but the key to composting’s success will be how easy and convenient governments will make it so that food waste recycling becomes as established as recycling paper.
Fact: Food waste was the second largest waste material in 2011, accounting for 15% of all waste behind paper and paperboard, which accounted for 28%, according to the EPA. Of those, however, over half of the paper/paperboard was recycled while a meager 1.6% of food waste was recycled.
So how could we make it happen? Why not turn to bright spots in our own backyard?
New York recently launched pilot food waste recycling programs on select sites and is following the lead of cities like San Francisco to combine convenience, incentives and slight nudges to prompt residents to recycle food waste. A recent survey by BioCycle, a magazine that promotes recycling, found that some municipalities are offering less frequent garbage collection to steer residents away from the trash bin, according to the New York Times. Others have offered free recycling pickup services as an incentive.
Behavior change, after all, is about removing barriers and motivators to adopt the behavior. Awareness alone isn’t enough to prompt people to act. Smokers know tobacco causes cancer but they still smoke. Bottom line is that it has to be easy.
The NYT article added that apartment buildings were the most challenging as residents don’t want to come all the way down to a garage or basement to dump their scraps. “…Space for bins must be found at least on some floors. Buildings must also devote staff to removing the waste every day, or at least keep it out of sight, to avoid putting off the squeamish,” the article stated.
Portland scaled back residential garbage pickup to once every two weeks and also launched a weekly compost pickup – and got results. The volume of garbage collected decreased to 58,300 tons in the 12-month period ending in October 2012 compared with 94,100 tons of garbage collected in the same period the previous year when the program launched. Moreover, collections of compostable material rose to 85,400 tons from 30,600 tons in the same period, a figure that includes yard waste, according to a Yale Environment360 report.
Are you sold yet? What have you found to be the most effective ways to make composting successful in your neighborhood?