STOP WASTING, START COMPOSTING by Erin Castellano, Science Educator


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Adventure Science Center Blog

Science Educators and guest authors exploring our world and the science and technology that connects us.



STOP WASTING, START COMPOSTING by Erin Castellano, Science Educator

Food provides us with sustenance and energy that we can use every day. However, did you know that we’re wasting food at an alarming rate? In America alone, studies have found people waste nearly 150,000 tons of food per year. That’s nearly a pound of food per person!

Use these simple tricks to start reducing food waste in your own home today:

Store food smartly!


By using airtight containers to store leftover food, you can help keep it safe from bacteria. Microorganisms are all around us and, when combined with a variety of factors – like light, humidity, and oxygen – can cause your food to spoil. I recommend checking out the Food Keeper app (available online and mobile) by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to learn how long it’s safe to store your food.

Prepare for the week ahead!


Meal prepping isn’t just a fad to get gains or lose weight… it’s also a great way to make sure all the food you purchase gets used before it goes bad. According to the “Save the Food” campaign, up to 40% of food in the U.S. is never eaten, resulting in $218 billion lost… some of that money coming right from your own pocket. Save the Food estimates that the average family of four “spends over $1,500 per year on food that they don’t eat.”

Freeze it!


Channel your inner-Elsa and embrace the power of your freezer! By freezing your food (whether for meal prep or leftovers), you can lengthen its lifespan. You can even freeze fresh produce if you don’t think you’ll have the chance to eat it before it spoils. To get guidance on storage and lifespan, check the Food Keeper app or Save the Food»



Many foods comes with labels, but that “use by,” “best by,” or “enjoy by” date doesn’t necessarily mean the food is expired. Rather, the date suggests the product would be freshest before this date. When in doubt… use your senses! Smell and sight are great indicators for when food has “passed” its expiration.

Even if you use all of these tricks, waste can still happen. However, I’ve got a way you can have a positive impact on your world even with food waste… COMPOSTING!
Compost is a mixture of decaying organic material that can be used to fertilize plants.

By composting, you’re helping to reduce methane emissions from landfills, return valuable nutrients to the soil for plants to grow, and reduce the need for water by creating an environment of moisture-rich soil… just to name a few!

Compost has four main building blocks:

  1. Green materials (i.e., vegetable scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds)
  2. Brown materials (i.e., dry leaves, shredded paper, twigs)
  3. Oxygen (a key reason why “turning” is so important!)
  4. Water (aids in “digestion” process)

Note: Meat, bones, and dairy products do NOT belong in a typical household compost pile as they can attract pests or wild animals.

Quick & Dirty Guide to Backyard Composting


Curious how to start your own compost? Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Designate an area in your yard to composting. Be sure to mark the perimeters of this section well and ensure that the area is safe to dig into. If you’re unsure whether it’s safe, call 811 before you dig to avoid unintentionally hitting underground utility lines.
  • When you’re ready, dig a small hole in the ground (less than one foot is sufficient) and place your food waste in this area. If there are seeds included in your food waste, there might be sprouts eventually, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. (Some gardeners prefer to designate a “compost” pile and a “garden” area.)
  • If your food waste is large and bulky (such as a head of lettuce or whole carrots), be sure to break this food down by using a shovel to “chop” it or by cutting up your food before bringing it to the compost pile so it will decompose easier.
  • Once your compost is in the hole, bury it! Decomposers in the soil will take care of the rest of the work.
  • Next time you bring waste to your compost area, try not to dig a hole in the exact spot. Instead, work around in the perimeter you have designated as your compost zone. By the time you make your way all the way around, there should be little food left! If you still see scraps of food, use a shovel or a garden trowel to “turn” the pile.
  • Your food waste becomes food for organisms living in the soil. It returns valuable nutrients to the soil, making it more fertile and rich, and helps improve plant growth while putting that wasted food into good use!

You’ll know when your compost is ready to harvest when it has no recognizable items within it, has an earthy smell, and is dark in color. When it’s reached that point, you can sprinkle the compost around plants or mix it in your potting soil.

If you’re interested in reducing your food waste but don’t have a yard or the desire to compost on your own, you can look into compost services in your area. Find A Composter»

Further Exploration:

- Erin Castellano, Science Educator

Posted by Molly Hornbuckle at 11:00 AM
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