Waste Not

Food waste is a huge problem! The problem does not lie in the sheer waste – and the many layers in which waste happens when food doesn’t end up getting eaten (like the waste of resources to grow, store and transport food; the waste of money spent to buy it). The real problem lies in the fallacy that because food is compostable there is no harm sending it to landfill.

When you throw that banana skin or stale bread out and it ends up in landfill, it doesn’t decompose as nature designed. Instead, starved of oxygen, it breaks down anaerobically, producing methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. One-third of the world’s food goes to waste, contributing to 8-10% of the world’s emissions, which are expressed in carbon dioxide equivalents.

If food waste was a country, it would be the third highest emitting country behind the US and China. Tackling food waste has a big impact and it is a lot less complex than recycling, easier than taking public transport and cheaper than installing solar panels. It’s something we can all do and if you live in Tauranga City, it’s as simple as putting out your food scraps bin each week to be picked up. In July 2021, Tauranga City Council implemented a new kerbside collection system which included weekly pick up of household food scraps.

“Since the launch of the new collections,” Dan Smith, Manager Sustainability & Waste from Tauranga City Council, says, “We’ve almost halved the amount of household waste going to landfill and reduced the amount of food scraps in our rubbish bins each year by a quarter.” Just over 3 million kilograms of food scraps were collected in the first year of the new service alone! According to emissions factors provided by the Ministry for the Environment, if this amount of food scraps had gone to a landfill designed to capture as many emissions as possible, it would still have released 350% more emissions than when sending these food scraps for composting through the new food scraps collections.

Even landfills with emissions capture technology in place still release a significant amount of emissions into the atmosphere. That 3,000 tonnes of food scraps collected would produce an estimated 1,823 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents if put into landfill. By contrast, composting the food scraps would only produce 521 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents, a reduction of nearly 72%. The avoided emissions are equivalent to eliminating nearly 5 million kilometres being driven by a standard private vehicle. Dan points out that alternatives to landfill are always going to be positive.

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