Food Waste in Landfills, Why it Matters and How to Reduce it

A bulldozer beside several bags of trash in a landfill

Have you ever wondered where green bin waste goes? Though some of the waste goes to composting facilities, large amounts still end up in landfills. If you’re not familiar, landfills are sites in which materials like spoiled food are disposed of by gradually being buried a\nd covered over. Food waste does break down in landfills, but this isn’t ideal. Landfills can have a significantly negative environmental impact, and they’re filling up quick due to an increase in food production and people throwing away organic waste. Thankfully, we have the power to reduce the amount of wasted food that ends up in landfills.

If you want to have a zero waste kitchen, preventing food waste is essential. The good news is that this is entirely possible through using technologies to reduce waste, proper food storage techniques, and other effective methods. To help you get started, we’ll cover several topics and frequently asked questions surrounding wasted food and landfills. This includes:

Before we get into the effects of having so many food scraps in landfills, let’s discuss what actually happens to food once it’s thrown away. 


What happens to food in landfills?

A bulldozer driving over a massive landfill filled with garbage

In landfills, food gradually decomposes. It begins to enter the soil and air, which can be damaging to the environment and nearby communities. Some food waste may be put in an incinerator instead. While an incinerator does produce energy, it also has an overall negative environmental impact.

Landfills are more than just an eyesore. They’re the place where we’re forced to dump things we couldn’t find another use for. Perhaps in small amounts, the process described above wouldn’t be so bad. However, there are significant problems when you consider just how much food is going to waste each year.


How much food ends up in landfills?

A bulldozer driving on top of layers of trash in a landfill

In the United States, over 35 million tons of food waste goes into landfills each year. This takes up a considerable amount of space in our landfills. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that food accounts for 20 percent of the overall waste found in municipal landfills.

It’s worth noting that the US creates more food waste than France, Germany, Sweden, and Italy combined. That said, it’s easy for us to ignore the amount of food going to waste when we can’t see the landfills for ourselves. The reality is, the tons of food we’re throwing away has a very tangible impact on our communities and our environment - the effects of which we can see around us. 



5 effects of food waste in landfills

Large amount of smoke and fumes polluting the air

When we throw our scraps into the trash, it can be hard to conceptualize how much damage that food waste can do. Here are just 5 of the many effects and consequences of having so much food scraps in landfills.

  1. Releases methane: As wasted food rots in a landfill, it begins to release methane. Methane is among the greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.
  2. Wastes resources: The time, money, and energy it takes to transport our wasted food to landfills wastes resources. A notable resource wasted is gas, which in itself can have environmental consequences.
  3. Takes up space: When we throw away food that didn’t need to be wasted, we’re taking up unnecessary landfill space that could’ve been used for something else.
  4. Bad odors: If you’ve ever driven past a landfill, you’d know exactly why it’s so important to reduce food waste. The odor of rotting food and the gasses produced in landfills overall can cause nearby buildings to smell.
  5. Harms wildlife: Landfills can be quite harmful to wildlife, as they expose animals to harmful foods and certain materials that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

5 great ways to prevent food waste from going to landfills

Wondering how you can prevent your own wasted food from being dumped into landfills? We’re here to help. There are many innovative ways to reduce food waste. Here are just 5 that you can easily begin practicing at home today. 


1. Meal plan

Someone writing a meal plan with foods and drinks around them

Sometimes we buy a food item and accidentally let it go to waste because we were craving something different. That’s why one of the most effective ways to reduce your organic waste is to meal plan. This means being very deliberate with your grocery list and planning out specific breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for the week. When you take this route, you might be surprised to see how few food scraps you create.

An added benefit of meal planning and shopping deliberately is that you can save quite a bit of money. Once you begin viewing food waste as wasted money, you might be more incentivized to change your habits. The key is to buy foods that you actually enjoy so that you won’t be tempted to go out and buy something that wasn’t in your plan.

Pro tip: Sticking to a grocery list when you’re shopping with other people can be tricky. If you want to avoid other people throwing stuff in the cart, you may want to go to grocery stores alone.


2. Compost

A lomi electric composter on a counter beside food scraps

Composting is one of the absolute best ways to dispose of your wasted food. If you’re not familiar with composting, it’s a process that allows your organic food waste to decompose into nutrient-rich soil that can then nourish other plants. There are many different ways to compost. There’s cold composting for people with backyards and electric composting for people looking for a simple indoor method.

With an electric composter like Lomi, you can create nutrient-rich dirt at home within a day. This is quite impressive, especially when you consider the many weeks and months it takes to create compost with cold composting. With this kitchen composter, all you have to do is insert your food waste and let the device take care of the rest.

Pro tip: Lomi can also break down non-food items like paper coffee filters and tea bags. That said, you should also check to make sure a non-food item is Lomi approved before inserting it.

Lomi by Pela

Lomi

★★★★★

Lomi allows you to turn food waste into plant-ready nutrients in under 24 hours. Boost your plants while reducing your waste.


3. Store food properly

Containers and packages of food stored in a fridge

So much food goes bad quickly or unnecessarily because it wasn’t stored properly. That’s why storing food properly is one of the most effective food waste solutions out there. When putting food away, make sure you’re using containers and bags that seal properly. Leaving parts exposed can lead to your delicious leftover food turning into spoiled food.

Of course, proper food storage goes beyond using airtight containers. You can have your own little food waste management system in your pantry. All you have to do is move older items to the front of your pantry and newer items to the back. If you have excess food that you don’t think you can eat before it spoils, find food banks that accept food donations. Why waste food when you could feed hungry people before your items go bad?

Pro tip: If you want to avoid the single-use plastics of saran wrap and sandwich bags, you can reusable eco-friendly alternatives made of materials like beeswax to keep your edible food edible. 


4. Keep and eat your leftovers

Someone scraping chickpeas off their plate and into trash

Food production has increased drastically over the past few decades. As a result, organic waste has too. That’s why a key element to reducing and managing food waste is to store and eat your leftovers. Many people opt to scrape their leftover food in the trash, but this is highly wasteful.

Throwing out perfectly good food leads to excessive organic waste in landfills. Instead, simply place your food in containers for you to have for lunch the next day! You could also have a leftovers supper night with your family to get all the leftovers eaten in one sitting.

Pro tip: If you don’t think you’ll be able to eat your leftovers before they spoil, you can freeze them to keep them fresh for longer. This is a great way to ensure your edible food can be safely eaten weeks from now.


5. Think twice before throwing things out

Three light green smoothies with straws in mason jars

Just because your greens are wilting a bit doesn’t mean they need to be thrown out. The idea of keeping wasted food may seem strange, but there are actually plenty of ways to use it. Don’t waste food - make something new!

This is one of the most fun ways to reduce food waste. All you have to do is get a little creative with your food scraps. If something doesn’t have mold, you can typically transform it into a different dish. You could, for example, add your wilted greens or veggies to smoothies, soup stock, or even baked dishes. Even stale bread can be used to make breadcrumbs.

Pro tip: ‘Best before’ dates shouldn’t be the end all and be all. If your food still looks and smells fresh, it’s typically fine to eat it. 



9 resources to help you keep food waste out of landfills

Interested in learning more about how to keep your food scraps out of landfills? Here are some valuable resources to help you make better use of leftovers, store food properly, meal plan, and much more.

  1. Raw Blend: Raw Blend is a website that offers all kinds of great recipes. This includes a weekly leftover green smoothie, which you can make using extra greens you’d normally end up throwing away.
  2. FDA: The FDA’s website offers lots of helpful information concerning how to store your food properly so it doesn’t go bad as quickly. 
  3. Zero-Waste Kitchen Guide: With Pela’s zero-waste kitchen guide, you can learn more about meal planning, sustainable shopping, eco-friendly appliance alternatives, and more.
  4. Daily Burn: Daily Burn makes meal planning as easy as can be with their selection of free printable meal planning templates. On their website, you’ll also find lots of recipes and nutritional information.
  5. Growit Buildit: Growit Buildit is a popular YouTube channel with over 60,000 subscribers. They offer a lot of content concerning composting, including a very informative video titled ‘How to make Compost - The Simplest Easy Method To Compost Piles!’.
  6. The Budget Mom: With over 200,000 subscribers, The Budget Mom YouTube channel is a popular resource for all things budgeting. If you’re interested in meal planning and how to save money at grocery stores, you should definitely check out her video titled ‘How I Create My Weekly Meal Plans’.
  7. 23 Genius Food Waste Solutions to Combat the World’s Biggest Problem: This guide covers a wide range of solutions to help you reduce the amount of food waste you’re creating. This includes growing your own food, turning veggie scraps into stock, and much more.
  8. Don’t Throw That Away! 10 Creative Ways to Use Leftovers: This amazing blog post from I Value Food provides you with 10 ways to use your leftovers. They discuss having a leftovers night at home, turning them into soup, and more.
  9. Food Waste, the Environment + Climate Change: With this informative chart from the Commission for Environmental Conservation’s website, you can learn more about the impact of your wasted food. This will definitely inspire you to take action to reduce your food waste.

With compost alternatives like Lomi and proper food storage techniques, you can significantly reduce your food waste and do your part to lower the amount of waste going into landfills. If you’d like to learn more about how to compost at home or anything else related to reducing food waste, please check out our other informative blogs. We offer several guides, including an informative guide to reducing food waste


Written by: E Sawden