It’s the season for summer BBQs and gatherings with family and friends. This also means that a lot of bottles and cans, paper products, and foods are purchased and served. If you’re not composting,  it’s time to start.

A Beyond Food report found that an event in a venue wastes as much as 20% of the food that’s available for that event. Granted, that’s a large event like a conference, convention, or wedding, but even a small gathering at home will generate a lot of waste.

According to the USDA, around 133 billion pounds of food are wasted each year. It breaks down to 399 pounds of food per person. Several states have taken action to stop food waste, including Vermont where all food scraps are banned from household trash. 

The government’s goal is to reduce food waste to around 109 pounds per person each year by 2030. Recycling food is not always easy, but it’s important for the environment. Consider composting as a solution for your summer BBQs this year.

How Does Composting Help?

The EPA completed a study in which it was estimated that food waste in one year emits about 170 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That doesn’t include landfill emissions either. It counts the gases created from production, harvesting, processing, transportation, preparing/cooking, and storage.

If you eat the food that’s grown and prepared, the gases created from the field to table at least end up being purposeful. If you throw it away, that’s gas created for no reason. Composting prevents the gases released in transporting food waste to the landfill, decomposition, and trucks needed to move trash and bury it in the landfill.

Tips for Getting Started With Food Composting

Instead of throwing away your food, why not compost it? The compost you create helps provide nutrients in your flower, herb, and vegetable gardens. Compost can help grass seeds thrive. 

How do you get started with food composting? Composting at home isn’t hard. You just need to remember the rule of 50/50. Half of your compost should be made up of greens and the other half is browns. Water anything that’s dry to ensure the mixture that’s composting is moist and able to break down. If it gets too wet, ripped-up paper bags, cardboard, and shredded paper packaging materials soak up extra water. 

What are greens and browns?

Greens are items like vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings.
Browns are items like leaves, cardboard, shredded bleach-free paper, branches, and twigs.

Aerate your compost often, which is why I prefer a tumbler composter. It’s a workout to spin it as it fills up, but it’s a great way to work out the arm and shoulder muscles. It also mixes and aerates it quickly. Compost is ready faster when you have a tumbler.

Consider the placement. As Vermont shifted to mandatory food composting, many areas that had never had a problem with bears, raccoons, skunks, etc. started seeing these animals trying to break into composting bins or using compost piles as a free buffet. I keep mine under a motion-activated solar floodlight and that works well at deterring them.

Once you have where you’re composting set up, you need to have containers for food waste to go. You don’t have to spend a lot. You just need something with a lid that you can use to collect food waste and bring it to your compost pile, bin, or tumbler.

Get Some Buckets and Lids

You don’t need too much. A plastic 5-gallon bucket with a lid is a good start. Label the bucket to ensure people know what goes in each one.

If you have a facility that accepts all food waste, have two bins. One has your produce scraps that go into your home composting set up. The other is for dairy, bread, and meats that cannot go into the compost that goes in your gardens.

Make sure each one is labeled. During your summer cookout, you want to make it easy for your guests to know where things go. Little kids may benefit from pictures to help them know what to do.

Skip the Liners

There’s a current class action suit against a company that makes biodegradable dog waste bags. Why? They don’t biodegrade well. Plus, there are still microplastics that enter the soil, air, and water. The University of Colorado Boulder found that biodegradable compost bags take more than 10 years to break down in backyard compost. Our tip is to skip a liner and use something that does break down.

If you absolutely must line your composting container to keep food from sticking to the bottom and side, use a paper grocery bag. It will break down. It’s not going to stop liquids from seeping through the paper, but paper is compostable.

Other Things to Do to Lessen the Load Going to a Landfill

That’s food waste, but what about the other items used in a summer gathering? If you are using 

disposable plates and cutlery, look for biodegradable options made with things like potato starch or bamboo. Better, just use normal plates and silverware and run it in the dishwasher after.

Avoid Styrofoam. It’s going to sit in a landfill. Paper is better if you want disposable plates and bowls. If you’re worried about strength, brands like Chinet make paper fiber plates that are strong.

When shopping for beverages, look for cans and bottles made with recycled plastic and metal. Have a container that’s clearly labeled and in a convenient place for people to recycle it once someone is done drinking it. Reusable cups and a keg or water cooler are even better.

Don’t cook more than people can eat. It’s better to have to cook more burgers, hot dogs, etc. than cook way too many. Keep a grill on standby in case people want more food. If you have leftovers, move them to the fridge or freezer within two hours to avoid having to throw them out.

Ask guests to take home leftovers, too. If there’s too much for your household to eat, get guests to help out. They’ll appreciate having something already to eat the next day, and you avoid creating additional food waste.

While meats, dairy, and fats/oils may not be compostable in your yard, your local drop-off center might accept all food scraps. Enter your ZIP code at Recycle Nation and choose “Organic Waste.” That brings up a list of possible places to bring your food scraps that you cannot compost. Also, check with local farms. Many accept food scraps for their pigs. It never hurts to ask, and you might just find a place where you can bring your food scraps regularly.