Australians love food. Whether it’s Indian, French, Japanese or American cuisine, we’re keen for it. But unfortunately, there seems to be something else that we can’t get enough of: food waste.
Every year, Australians send over 5 million tonnes of food waste to landfill. That’s enough to fill 9000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
This isn’t just bad because needy people miss out. When food goes into landfill, the environment seriously suffers.
Why? Because of carbon in food.
Food waste contributes to climate change when it winds up in landfill
Yes, carbon. That pesky element so often talked about alongside climate change. But what does the carbon in your grandma’s lamingtons have to do with climate change? Well, depending on where your leftovers go, quite a bit.
All that carbon in your food is found in different kinds of molecules like carbohydrates, proteins and fats. When the carbon in your food goes to landfill, microorganisms break them down. This decomposition process produces methane gas.
Food is made of carbon-based molecules like carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
In landfill, microorganisms break down those compounds and release methane.
Methane, which we’re all guilty of producing ourselves from time to time, is bad news for the climate. Methane traps significantly more heat than carbon dioxide, the most infamous greenhouse gas. That’s bad news for Planet Earth and everyone on it.
COMPOSTING TO THE RESCUE
Luckily, this problem can be solved with some clever science. More than 90 local governments across Australia run a food and garden waste composting program to lower the amount of organic material going to landfill. This hugely reduces methane production and takes a vital step in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.
To learn more, I spoke with Tim Youé of Southern Metropolitan Regional Council (SMRC), an organisation that deals with the waste for numerous Perth councils. While SMRC has been composting organic waste (collected from general mixed waste) for 15 years, problems with contamination have reduced the quality of compost.
SMRC is now trialling the Food Organics Garden Organics (FOGO) program with the City of Melville where 7000 homes separate their food waste out from general waste. Instead of just dumping food waste into their main bin, homeowners separate their food waste into a small kitchen caddy with a compostable liner made of cornstarch.
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