How common is organics recycling?
-Kathy B., OH
Organic waste refers to any biodegradable item you’re tossing out, like food waste (your leftovers) or yard waste (those leaves you rake up in the fall). Because of its nature, when organic waste is sent to a landfill it creates and releases harmful greenhouse gases. But when organic waste is collected separately of other waste — when it’s not handled as just trash — it can be converted into useful products like compost, a valuable soil amendment, or even renewable energy, without releasing the same types or amounts of harmful gases. The process of collecting organic waste and changing it into something useful is often referred to as organics recycling. Please Note: Organics should always be separated from your other recyclables — don’t put organic waste in your recycling bin!
According to a 2012 Biocycle study, the number of communities with organics collection programs has increased by more than 50%, and there are over 150 communities across 16 states that offer organics collection programs, with California and Washington leading the way. Throughout the U.S., 2.55 million households had organics collection programs available to them in 2012, and that number continues to grow. According to a 2012 EPA report, over 30 million tons of organic waste gets sent to landfills and incinerators each year — so while organics recycling is becoming more popular, there’s still lots of room to expand its reach and impact.
Similar to your standard recycling, organic waste collection methods include curbside pickup programs in some places, and sometimes drop-off programs. Where pickup is available, public or private waste collectors pick up the organics from designated containers placed at residents’ curbs. In the case of drop-off, it is a resident’s responsibility to take the organics to community drop-off sites. Food waste drop-off programs provide a low-cost alternative to curbside collection, and have proven to be quite effective. For instance, in Cambridge, MA, residents can bring food scraps to two drop-off sites, one at the municipal recycling center and the other at a Whole Foods supermarket, thus providing residents options and making organics collection easier on all.
The good news for us consumers is that there are various formal (and informal) ways to get involved in organics recycling and to prevent organic waste from going to landfills. Food waste is arguably the place we can have the greatest impact on reducing organic waste; here are some tip from the EPA to prevent food waste:
- Buy less, thereby preventing food waste in the first place.
- Donate unexpired, packaged food you won’t use anymore to those in need.
- Participate in local organics collection programs if available.
- Turn food waste into compost in your own backyard or join a local composting program.