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Yard Trimmings/Food Scraps

Reducing the amount of solid waste that we dispose of is easier than you might think. Recycling organic materials, such as food scraps and yard trimmings, can significantly reduce the amount of solid waste disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Together they represent one-fourth of the municipal solid waste (MSW) we generate. Government agencies, small and large businesses, and individuals all can participate in composting and recovery programs for organic materials—as well as create their own programs.

Just the Facts

  • Of the total tonnage of MSW generated in 2010, 13.4 percent was yard trimmings, and nearly 14 percent was food scraps.
  • In 2010, 57.5 percent of the 33 million tons of discarded yard trimmings were composted, a dramatic increase from the 12-percent recovery rate in 1990. 
  • While yard trimmings recovery has improved significantly over the years, food scraps recovery has not substantially increased. Only about 2.8 percent of the nearly 35 million tons of discarded food scraps in 2010 were recovered.
  • Forty percent of food in the United States is never eaten, amounting to $165 billion a year in waste, according to a 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council report. The NRDC says more than 20 pounds of food is wasted each month for each of 311 million Americans, amounting to $1,350 to $2,275 annually in waste for a family of four. This also takes a toll on the country's water resources and significantly increases greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Of the total waste prevented from disposal since 1990, nearly half has come from organic materials such as yard trimmings and food leftovers.

Yard Trimmings

In large part, disposal of yard materials—such as grass clippings and trimmings from bushes, trees, and other yard vegetation—in landfills is generally not necessary, since backyard composting and yard trimmings collection and recovery programs have become quite popular. The composting industry has grown rapidly over the past decade, and it provides a viable alternative to traditional disposal options for yard trimmings. Composting yard trimmings saves landfill space and reduces methane production in landfills. Methane gas can contribute to global climate change.

Collection

Even if you don't have any use for compost, you still can help reduce the amount of organic waste that might end up in a landfill. The following are some examples of how to do so:

  • Participate in local or regional programs that collect yard materials. If no programs exist, contact public officials and community leaders to ask about setting one up.
  • Offer yard materials to community composting programs or garden projects in your area.
  • Leave mown grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and return nutrients back to the soil, rather than bagging and disposing of them.

Yard trimmings collection programs usually run on a seasonal basis, depending on the region and the time of year that vegetative growth is at its peak. For example, many communities collect grass clippings and brush from Spring to Fall, while others collect leaves from mid-October through December. In certain areas, such as the southwest United States, collection programs can operate year-round. Yard trimmings are collected through drop-off sites or curbside collection. Drop-off sites work best when residents are accustomed to delivering their household discards to landfills or transfer stations, thus avoiding the costs of a curbside collection program. For curbside collection, the municipality picks up the yard trimmings that residents have packaged and placed outside their homes. Although more expensive than drop-off programs, curbside collection typically garners higher participation and diversion rates. The higher operational costs of curbside collection programs thus can be offset by decreased disposal costs (tipping fees), increased landfill life, and potential revenue from compost sales.

Food Scraps

Food leftovers are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States—Americans throw away about 96 billion pounds of food each year. Food scraps include uneaten food and food preparation wastes from residences, commercial establishments like restaurants, institutional sources like school cafeterias, and industrial sources like factory lunchrooms. To improve and enhance food scraps recovery, EPA developed a hierarchy for food scraps management, which follows:

  1. Recover food to feed hungry people.
  2. Provide food to livestock, zoo animals, or animal shelters.
  3. Recycle food for industrial purposes.
  4. Compost food to improve soil fertility.
  5. Dispose of the materials.

(Source: EPA)


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