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Environmentalists are urging people to think twice about how much food they prepare and how to handle leftovers this Thanksgiving.
New York City, said to be the wasteiest city in the world, produced 5% more trash the week after Thanksgiving last year than during a typical week, according to the city’s sanitation department.
By composting leftovers, a process that converts organic matter into nutrient-rich soil, people can help reduce the amount of trash dumped in landfills, environmentalists say.
“More than 70 billion pounds of food waste reaches our landfills each year, contributing to methane emissions and wasting energy and resources throughout the food supply chain,” said Andrew Wheeler, then administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement the day before Thanksgiving in 2020. “This holiday season, we must all do our part to help people and the environment by preparing only what we need , reducing our food waste and sharing or donating what we can to feed others.”
Some US cities have implemented curbside composting that allows residents to leave food waste in labeled bins for pickup. Those who don’t live in neighborhoods where this service can take leftover food to a compost drop-off point or community garden.
The New York City Department of Sanitation is piloting a “smart trash” composting program to make food waste disposal easier. People can open these trash cans, scattered around Lower Manhattan, via an app and drop off the organic waste, which will then be taken to local and regional composting facilities.
Experts also advise Americans to freeze extra food to eat later, donate excess non-perishable food to local charities, and consider making less food.
Food composting has increased slightly over the past decade, but has not become a widespread way to manage food waste. From 2010 to 2018, the United States experienced a 23% increase in the amount of municipal solid waste composted. But only 4.1% of wasted food and other organic solid waste was composted in 2018.
Food contributes more to landfills than any other material, accounting for 24% of the city’s solid waste. Landfills are the country’s largest source of methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and is emitted when organic waste such as food decomposes.
“Preventing food from going to waste is one of the simplest and most powerful steps you can take to save money and reduce your climate footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving natural resources,” said EPA spokesman Robert Daguillard.