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Garbage Goat

“Hi! I’m GG the Garbage Goat, and I like to talk about trash. On my blog you’ll find interesting bits of information regarding how Spokane County handles its solid waste, how our recycling is handled, and other interesting things about waste. If you have questions about recycling or solid waste, you can contact the Spokane County Regional Recycling Information Line at 509-477-6800, or contact us online.”

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Apr 04

Food Waste

Posted on April 4, 2019 at 12:09 PM by Austin Stewart

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Did you know that in Spokane County, about 40% of all curbside collected waste is organic, or waste that can be composted? This is comparable to our statewide average, which shows that 43% of Washington’s residential waste is organic. The organic material found in residential waste is mostly made of food, garden, and yard waste. Other categories, such as manure, animal remains, and agricultural byproducts are also considered organic waste, but they’re not likely to be found in residential trash cans. Organic waste placed in your curbside trash bin will be sent with all other waste to either the Waste-to-Energy facility to be incinerated, or it will be landfilled. 

One goal of many sustainability advocates is to remove organic waste from our trash, and instead compost it. It might not seem like sending your food waste to be landfilled or incinerated is a major issue, but the difference between landfilling, incinerating, and composting organic waste is significant. When food, yard, and garden waste is put in a landfill, there is little to no available oxygen and this affects the way these materials decompose. The bacteria that live in an anaerobic environment, or anywhere where there is no oxygen, create methane, a greenhouse gas that is worse for our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Normally, materials breaking down with plenty of oxygen would release carbon dioxide, but the methane created in anaerobic landfill conditions is far worse than carbon dioxide. In fact, the EPA says methane can store more than 28 times the amount of heat in our environment than carbon dioxide does. What does this mean? Methane is very, very good at storing heat, and so it helps capture and retain heat in our atmosphere, making it one of the worst greenhouse gasses. 

Landfilled food waste creates methane and contributes to atmospheric warming, but what if your food waste is being incinerated at the Waste-to-Energy plant? The issue of this disposal method is different than with landfilling: the organic waste won’t generate any methane, but the moist waste is not an efficient fuel. The Waste-to-Energy facility burns waste and generates electricity. However, if the facility has to expend a lot of energy drying and burning things like food waste, it increases the amount of energy used in the process, and decreases the efficiency. Sending your organic waste here won’t harm anyone, but it limits the output of the facility and uses more energy. 

A better alternative to putting your food scraps and other organic waste in the trash is to compost them. One way to do this is to get a Clean Green cart, which is serviced weekly March through November. You can put all your food scraps and yard waste in this bin, and also any food-soiled paper products like napkins, paper towels, and pizza boxes. This method allows you to sustainably get rid of your organic waste without the work of managing your own compost pile. Of course, you can also compost your food waste yourself, and this can even be done in an apartment. Composting methods such as vermiculture and Bokashi allow people with smaller homes to compost their waste without needing much outdoor space. (More information on composting can be found on the Master Composter Program page.) You can also find a local community garden to see if there is a communal compost pile. If getting a Clean Green cart is out of your budget, all Clean Green materials can be self-hauled to a Transfer Station at half the price of disposing trash. 

If you do have a Clean Green cart, everything you put it in it is taken to Barr-Tech, a commercial compost facility. Barr-Tech uses large-scale composting methods that speed up the process, allowing for products like pizza boxes and certain compostable paper items to decompose quickly that wouldn’t normally break down in a home compost pile. Not only does this method prevent methane from being generated in a landfill, but it helps valuable nutrients re-enter soils, an important part of maintaining environmental resilience. Compost’s benefits are hard to compare with the alternative of landfilling organic waste—it feeds our soil, and a single pound of compost can hold up to 40 pounds of water, helping to prevent dry conditions that are hard on crops and require additional irrigation. 

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Diverting your organic waste from the trash to compost may seem like extra work and effort, and it is. Sustainability, and living within the means of our planet, is not an easy task, yet the effort required to live sustainably will not go unrewarded. As demonstrated by the value of compost, a little bit of effort can have major payoffs. When thinking about your waste, remember the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—and this time, let’s add a fourth: Rot!