Your Peelings' Dark Side
With all of the hoohah about plastic waste in the news over the last few months, you may be forgiven for thinking your food waste isn’t something you should be concerned about. Until relatively recently, I was not aware about the damage that some simple potato peelings can be doing to our planet.
What’s the problem?
When you put your food scraps in the bin, they end up going to landfill, where they don’t get the air that is needed to help them break down properly. This means food waste starts to break down anaerobically (without oxygen) and this causes the creation of methane – yup, the same as those pesky cow farts…
Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. However, methane doesn’t linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide and is much rarer, meaning that, over a certain amount of time, it doesn’t pose as much of a risk.
Sadly, 97.4% of food waste goes to landfill and accounts for over 16% of all human methane emissions. Which leads us to talking about the importance of composting.
What can I compost?
There is so much that you can compost – almost all food and garden waste can be included. It is best to remember a few things when composting.
1. Put things in as small as you can – the smaller everything is the faster it will decompose.
2. Make sure you keep some things out of your compost bin:
a. Meat and fish is compostable but it will create a terrible smell when the meat starts to rot and can attract all sorts of animals like rats and foxes.
b. Citrus peels and onions need some consideration before putting them in. The chemicals and acidity of them can kill the organisms that we rely on to break down the other food to make the compost. If you are making your own compost at home then find a nifty way to use them without throwing them away. If you are using your council food waste service, just put them in! However, if you are looking for some creative ways to use your waste, you can try candied citrus peels, save them for tea, or our personal favourite, infuse your own alcohol!
c. Tea bags involve some synthetic fibres or glue (not all do – check your packaging!) and so can’t go in. But you can make sure to buy non-plastic tea bags or loose leaf to keep everyone happy!
d. Dog and cat poo (as well as poo from other carnivores) contain micro-organisms that you won’t want to be put on your food crops so compost these separately! Horse, cow, rabbit, chicken and goat poo are all fine to go in!
e. Cooked food is usually fine in your council composting collection but at home be weary because it can cause some unwanted smells and friends to join you in your garden!
3. Try to keep a nice balance of ‘green’ to ‘brown’ items in your compost for the fastest breakdown. Green items are like food scraps and droppings, brown items are leaves, straw and non-glossy, untreated paper. This isn’t an essential step but it can make your garden greener quicker.
What if I don’t have a garden?
Many councils in the UK do provide a food collection service; you can check if yours does here. Please also check what food each council accepts as it may vary.
If your council doesn’t compost, you can get compost containers that are suitable for using in your flat or house without issues with smell or pests. I can’t personally vouch for these, but if anyone has tried one please let us know how you got on in the comments below or with a message!
Whatever your situation, it seems everyone can cut out sending almost all of their food waste to landfill. It is also important to remember that this issue isn’t just caused by bad composting habits – most of the 7 million tonnes of food thrown away in the UK every year could have been eaten, so we also need to address food planning. By doing this, you will find that the amount of waste you produce is massively reduced before you even start composting!