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Tips to Keep Food Scraps Out of Your Trash

Food scrap drop-off site at the Vermont Compost Company in Montpelier, VT. Photo: Cassandra Hemenway.

Cassandra Hemenway

The fastest route to stinky trash is through food scraps, but there are ways to avoid it. If you are already keeping food scraps out of the trash, you are part of a growing movement. Currently, four New England states and New York lead the nation with laws that ban food scraps from the landfill. The laws vary, with Vermont’s as the most comprehensive, but they have in common that they recognize food scraps as a valuable resource for compost, energy production, or animal food. Additionally, they address the fact that food scraps decomposing in a landfill release methane, a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

It’s simple to manage food scraps while you get them from your kitchen to a backyard bin or a local drop-off site (or, if you’re lucky, to your curbside compost hauler). Here are some tips for managing kitchen waste so it doesn’t stink or attract pests.

Tip 1: Reduce food waste! The average American wastes about $1,500 a year on purchasing food that will not be eaten. Consider using all parts of your food, including stems, peels and more. Learn new recipes, and tips for buying, storing and cooking food to minimize waste here: https://scrapfoodwaste.org/

Tip 2: Use a countertop pail. Anything with a lid will do. Here are a few things to know about countertop pails:

  • Filters are not necessary. These are marketed as eliminating smells or fruit flies. However, it’s more effective to empty your pail frequently. Filters become problematic when washing your container, and aren’t always easy to find when you need a replacement. Emptying the pail every day or two is more effective for odor control than a filter.
  • Skip biodegradable bags if you can. Not all “Biobags” are created equal, and not all commercial compost facilities will accept them. If you must use a biodegradable bag, make sure it is BPI-certified (BPI is the Biodegradable Products Institute). BPI certified bags will break down in backyard compost, but they may not be accepted at all food scrap drop off sites.
  • Try lining your pail with a paper bag or folded newspaper, both of which can go directly into a backyard bin and safely decompose in the compost. If you drop off food scraps at a collection point, check with the site manager before using this strategy.
  • You don’t actually need a liner. Consider simply washing your container with warm soapy water after each food scrap drop off.

Tip 3: Keep a supply of wood shavings or sawdust available. Most farm and garden stores sell them for less than $6.00 a bale. If you are composting at home, you need three times as many “browns” to “greens” in a backyard bin; so, having a supply on hand is vital to successfully composting. Even if you are dropping off food scraps or have a hauler pick them up at your home, wood shavings will help keep your materials clean and odor free. Here are some ideas for using them.

  • Add a layer of wood shavings to the bottom of your kitchen food scrap pail to absorb moisture.
  • Add a layer of wood shavings on top of your food scraps pail at the end of each day.
  • If dumping your small kitchen pail into a larger bucket that you are storing for a drop-off site, add two to three inches of wood shavings on top of the food scraps every time you add to the bucket. This will reduce or eliminate smells and flies.
  • If backyard composting, keep wood shavings (or other browns like dried leaves, hay, etc.) in a container next to your bin, so every time you add food scraps, you can add three times as many browns.

Options for managing food scraps are in place throughout New England and New York at this point, from backyard composting to curbside pick-up, to an array of drop off sites. Check with your state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, or your local solid waste management district to learn more about your local options.

Cassandra Hemenway is the outreach manager and compost educator at the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District. She leads compost webinars and has set up five community compost sites in central Vermont.

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