Though it may at first seem like a small thing, a new East Hampton Town composting project carries an important message. Coming soon to a farmers market near you, kind of, will be new food-waste bins. Initially, collection points will be at the Springs Farmers Market at Ashawagh Hall Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and in Sag Harbor at the weekly Saturday market on Bay Street near Burke Street and Dering Road, from 10 a.m. to noon, beginning July 22. The bins will be for raw fruit, vegetable scraps and peels, loose leaf tea and coffee grounds, eggshells, leaves, flowers, grasses, and the dry contents of countertop composters. There are some very good reasons for recycling in this way.
In the United States, at least 30 percent of food is wasted. Food is also the single largest category of material dumped in municipal landfills. Advocates for improved agricultural practices point out that the water, energy, and labor used to produce wasted food could have been employed for other purposes. A 2019 government study estimated that 66 million tons of wasted food was generated in the retail, food service, and residential sectors, and, of that amount, about 60 percent was sent to landfills. An additional 40 million tons of wasted food was generated by food and beverage manufacturing and processing.
The production and distribution of food is a major driver of climate change. While transportation and electrical generation together account for more than half of the greenhouse gases in the U.S., agriculture is no slouch, responsible for about 10 percent of greenhouse gases in the U.S. in 2021, for example. Moving all that food around generates a lot of emissions as well; a recent study estimated that, worldwide, roughly half of emissions from road vehicles involved the food supply. Shipping foodstuffs such as grains by sea contributes still more.
Growing animals for meat is known to be a major factor in global warming, but those blueberries we eat in January that were grown in South America are too. The less we throw away, the less that will have to be grown and brought to markets. Buying local and in-season whenever possible is a sensible practice.
On the back end, food waste weighs a lot, and the cost and emission levels of hauling it away are significant. This is where more widespread composting can help. Organic waste in landfills generates plenty of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Composting it produces far less methane and can help eliminate the need for chemical, often petroleum-based fertilizers. Composting also aids in carbon capture, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Not everyone in East Hampton will be able to take advantage of the new compost project, but the message will be clear: Reducing wasted food and changing how we deal with its scraps really matters.