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The Arbor Teas Blog - sustainability

Food Waste and Your Methane Footprint

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food waste from petrr

With so much talk of CO2 and our carbon footprints, you might be under the false impression that carbon is the only greenhouse gas that you have to worry about. Unfortunately, there are several “greenhouse gasses,” that is, gasses that are emitted on Earth and that trap heat in the atmosphere, creating a “greenhouse effect.” Among them are Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), Methane (CH4), and manmade Fluorinated gases.

Each gas is directly related to some activity here on Earth – much of it manmade. The EPA has a great resource for explaining each of the greenhouse gasses. Today, we want to talk about methane.

While CO2 makes up more than 80% of the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere, methane is thought to be much more dangerous, as it is more efficient at trapping radiation in the atmosphere. Pound for pound, the EPA says, methane is 20 times more harmful than CO2 over a 100-year period.

Which is what makes the source of methane (namely, us) so much more distressing.

A large part of our individual “methane footprints” comes from food waste – the food that we don’t eat and send to landfills to decompose. In fact, landfills are the third largest source of CH4 behind industry (particularly the production of fossil fuels, such as natural gas) and agriculture (particularly the raising of livestock for food).

The good news is that, as we are the cause, we can also be the solution.

The #1 thing you can do to reduce your methane footprint is to stop sending food, and other organic materials such as yard clippings, to landfills. There are a few ways to do this:

  1. If you find that you end up throwing old or rotten produce each time you clean out your refrigerator, make it a point to reduce the food that you buy. Or, make a plan for eating all of the food that you buy, and stick to it.
  2. Make vegetable stock out of the discarded vegetables that you might otherwise throw away, such as onionskins or the ends of carrots.
  3. Compost, compost, compost. Unlike landfills, most forms of composting do not generate methane because they are not anaerobic environments. Compost piles “breathe” every time you turn them.

Many cities, states and municipalities are helping their citizens divert organic matter from landfills by creating the infrastructure for “mass composting.” This is the case in our hometown of Ann Arbor, MI, as well as major metros like San Francisco, CA, where food scraps and other organic materials are diverted from landfills and turned into fertilizer that is then used by local farms.

Mother Jones reported in 2009 that, in addition to reducing the production of methane, San Francisco’s municipal composting program has other environmental benefits, including the use of compost over manure for fertilization by local vineyards, which helps sequester 10,802 pounds of CO2 per hectare each year, and contributed to a 600% reduction of nitrate leaching, a cause of groundwater pollution.

Even if your city doesn’t yet have a method for diverting food scraps from landfills, you can still do your part by composting at home. And make sure you toss our packaging into your compost heap – in case you didn't know, our packages are now 100% backyard compostable!

For more tips on reducing food waste, check out this post from Greatist.

[photo credit: Petrr on Flickr]

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