Electric America

The People and Places Powering the USA

Tumbling Grapes and Composting on America's Favorite Food Holiday

The frozen grapes toppled out of my bag one by one as I hustled through the metro station to catch my train out of the city. Bursting from my backpack were two large ziplop bags full of frozen vegetable scraps which I was choosing to lug from my apartment in downtown DC to the office freezer in the suburbs of the city. My boss had a garden where she composted, and had graciously agreed to make use of my household scraps to boost the soil.

It was a free option for disposal that was not the landfill.  It was an attempt to recycle food and help it become soil, instead of decomposing and releasing methane into the atmosphere. This was certainly not the most simple, convenient, or efficient system for disposal. But I was going to the office anyway, and you could say it spiced up my morning commute.

The Urban Tumbler (Goes Suburban)

Sticking excess veggie scraps in the freezer instead of the trash wasn’t too big of an ask of my roommates, and they kindly signed on, if for no other reason than to appease my environmental compulsions.

I backtracked through the metro station, picked up fallen frozen fruit and made it to the commercial office freezer to do the final handoff.

Suffice it to say, composting is not mainstream. It’s uncommon and can be a grape spilling hassle. It’s not the norm on the east coast, and not even in all places on the west coast. Lugging compost has become a trademark of the urban millennial, and most environmentalists  take pride in their farmers market drop-offs or home gardens.

Either way though, it's a choice and work,  and no one is incentivizing doing the right thing. 

I did enjoy my composting routine. It helped me be cognizant of what I was buying, using and throwing away, and I challenged myself to use more of the whole vegetable when I cooked.

Since moving back home from DC to the surburbs of NYC, I have not yet figured out how to effectively integrate composting into my day to day routine. In light of Thanksgiving, this beautiful festival of food, I thought I’d reflect on a couple anecdotes and resources to bring our my inner compost-er again, and hopefully yours too.

Food Waste Facts

1. 63 million tons, or 40 % percent of the food grown in the United States, is effectively going from farm to landfill (farm to fill, if you will).

“Every year, American consumers, businesses, and farms spends $218 billion a year, or 1.3% of GDP, growing, processing, transporting, and disposing food that is never eaten.”

2. Consumers make the largest contribution in the chain to food waste.

Household food waste in the United States totals 27 million tons each year or 43% percent of annual food waste.

3. More food than any other item goes to landfill and incinerators.

In the United States, food makes up 22% of the waste stream.

4. Methane from landfills is the third largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, and accounted for 15 % of emissions in 2015.

Still.. More Gas than Poop

As I casually toss food from this Sunday's holiday prep into the garbage, I thought back to a landfill and waste processing facility I visited in Florida earlier this year.

The Palm Beach County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) utility park houses the newest incinerator in the country, a landfill, recycling center and waste processing digester. It is one of the most closed-loop systems I have seen. 

As food and matter decomposes in the landfill, methane is released.  Methane is a greenhouse gas over 25x more potent than carbon. Methane can be captured and used to produce electricity or heat.  But even well managed landfills produce too much methane to use, or haven’t been incentivized or regulated to use all of it. 

 At the SWA, they capture the methane, and use it to run heaters that dry poop.  However, there is still extra methane. In fact, 40% of the landfill gas is not used. It is simply burned into the air, or flared off. If you were to get into the facility at night you'd see an stream of gas on fire.  Gas flaring is a common at oil wells where excess gas that comes up with the oil is burned because it is not seen as important or valuable enough to capture. 

Keep it from the Fill

All this talk of eating, landfill and gas got you revved up? Me too. I’m challenging myself, and anyone reading this, to find a way to reduce food waste in landfills (via composting, less cluttered fridge or any other food waste solution) Maybe we can’t get the infrastructure in place to capture all of our Thanksgiving scraps this year, but we can certainly strive to get it ready for next year, and in the new year. I still have yet to find my composting beat, but I will work on it and keep you posted on progress. 

There are many solutions for food waste, including prevention. ReFED lays out solutions to food waste and characterizes them by impacts: waste diversion, financial benefit, jobs created, ghg emissions, water use, and meals recovered.

*Centralized composting ranks first in impact for waste diversion, ghg emission AND job creation.  It can save  18million tons of ghg emissions each year.

When centralized composting seems out of your control, you CAN add your stack to community compost and show that there is a need for centralized composting. 

Here are some composting resources for residential food composting in your area:

1. NYC

Free Drop Off: 


2. DC

Free drop off:


Compost pick up services:


3. Baltimore

Composting Information:



3. Philadelphia

Compost pick up services:



4. Boston

Free drop off: 

https://www.boston.gov/environment-and-energy/project-oscar .

Compost pickup services:


5. Raleigh/The Triangle, NC

Compost pick up services:


So tomorrow your trash bin may be full of food. And so will your stomach. But maybe next year someone else's stomach, garden, or compost bin will be full too. And you can thank yourself and your inner compost-er. 

Enjoy your food coma, and enjoy the company with whom you're breaking bread.



Site by Molly A. Seltzer

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