Ever since I can remember, people have always been stunned by how much I can eat. I am always the first one at the dining table and I’m always the last to leave — a custom of mine that never ceases to puzzle and amuse my family. I am convinced I have a gift: the gift of putting food away in remarkable, and sometimes unexplainable, ways. To my dismay, most people I know do not share my seemingly rare ability. It’s for this reason the trash cans in our homes, and the ones lining the sidewalks outside, are always filled to the brim with half-eaten cheeseburgers and last night’s lasagna.
Simply put, we are a country of food wasters. In fact, of the 243 million tons of municipal solid waste we generated in 2009, roughly 14 percent — or approximately 34 million tons — was derived solely from food scraps, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. How disgusting is that? Even worse, less than 3 percent was actually recycled.
There are two solutions to this societal problem: We can either start digging through trash cans to determine who among us is the most wasteful and therefore deserves the blame, or we can be realistic about this and acknowledge the fact we are all part of this shameful problem. I’m not quite sure how or when it all started, but the “bigger is better” food phenomenon has taken control of most restaurants, and has subconsciously motivated us to cover every square inch of our plates whenever the opportunity arises.
But where do you think most of those leftovers end up? In your trash, which ends up in the back of a dump truck on its way to a landfill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a landfill or seen pictures of one, but if you haven’t, you need to. Massive heaps of cardboard, water bottles, plastic bags, food, yard trimmings and grime cover additional heaps of sludge and trash beneath them. Somewhere in this terrain of waste is the trash bag you threw out last week, with your half-eaten sandwiches and the water bottles you should have recycled. On a grander scale, roughly 132 million tons, or about 54 percent, of the municipal solid waste we generated in 2009 ended up in landfills.
Aside from recycling, though, what else can we do to rid ourselves of this repulsive habit? Well, my environmentally conscious friends, it’s time to learn how to compost. For those who aren’t sure what a compost is, it is a mixture comprised mainly of decayed, organic material that breaks down under certain conditions and provides minerals and nutrients for plants, animals and microorganisms, according to the EPA. The best part? You’ll never run out of things to toss in there. From food scraps such as stale cereal, eggshells, plain cooked pasta and pizza crusts to bathroom items such as toilet paper rolls, urine (if you dare) and hair from your comb or brush, you can pretty much walk into any room in your house and find something you can compost.
Of course, there are certain guidelines one should abide by, which online how-to videos and step-by-step instructions can assist you with. Or if you’d like to observe the process in person, look no further than the recycling program at San Diego State, which is currently one of 11 food waste recycling programs in San Diego. With the participation of West Commons, East Commons and the Cuicacalli dining hall, SDSU composts around three tons of food scrap every week at the Miramar Greenery composting facility. Because of that program, nearly 65 tons of waste from the landfill was estimated to be diverted through the food waste diversion program, according to the city website and the Overview of SDSU Management. I am proud to say that through the implementation of such programs, we actively stand out as a model university for environmental consciousness and responsibility.
But what more can we do? Provide SDSU students the opportunity to attend regular workshops about food waste and composting. Perhaps students majoring in environmental studies would be willing to help host such an event where they can assist in providing a wealth of information on food waste, landfills and the consequences of both.
The workshop could even offer a hands-on approach where students could actually create miniature composts they could easily duplicate at home. Informative booklets could be handed out. A food waste-based blog or YouTube channel could be created and updated by willing environmental studies students. Bottom line: We have to take initiative and motivate others to do the same. As much as we wish it were true, our trash doesn’t disappear into thin air after garbage collectors pick it up. With every day you waste, these landfills keep overflowing. Composting won’t singlehandedly end food wastage. But it’s one step against a huge problem that must be addressed.
—Stacey Oparnica is a journalism junior.