What to Do with Food Waste? How You Can Recycle and Reuse Food Scraps

Scraping leftover salad from plate into bin

The tragedy of food waste is right there in the name–it’s a shame to discard something with so much love left to give. 

All that spoiled and uneaten food, table scraps, produce trimmings, leaves, greens, tops, cores, pits…It adds up to millions of tons of wasted food every year in the U.S. alone, and that food is the number one type of item being sent to landfills, making up nearly a quarter of municipal solid waste

Food waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas contributing to global warming and the associated dangers to human and environmental health.

Most Americans are familiar with recycling paper and plastic. It’s time we brought that same energy to food scraps by repurposing it, regrowing it, reusing it, or–our favorite–composting it.

1. Turn Food Scraps into Valuable Compost

Humans figured out the value of using food waste to create compost at least 4,000 years ago. Though ancient Mesopotamians wouldn’t have called it “composting,” they recognized its ability to contribute important nutrients to crops and plants, and help soil retain water. 

While it still does all that, today we also appreciate composting for its ability to pull carbon from the air and reduce our dependence on chemical fertilizers, which are often petroleum-based and can be very damaging to the environment

Learn more about the importance of composting.

There are several ways to compost, starting at home.

DIY Composting at Home

A ready-made tool like a tumbling composter makes it easy and fast to get started in your own backyard. Of course, you don’t need anything fancy–a simple compost pile held together by 2x4s or stakes works fine. In fact, you don’t even need a backyard: a container with a few holes made in it, a tray, a little soil, and some newspaper are about all you need to get started composting indoors.

Use a Composting Service

For the ultimate convenience, you can have your food waste collected and composted for you. Your city may offer this, or you can sign up for a service like Moonshot Compost. 

Moonshot provides all the supplies, you just need to put food scraps in the bin and leave it out for collection once a week. Moonshot offers 2 options for home composting – pickup and drop-off.

If you go this route, your food waste will be taken to a commercial composting facility capable of churning out hundreds or thousands of tons of compost every year. From there, finished compost may either be sold to farms, nurseries, and/or individuals or donated to local charities and community organizations, depending on the facility.

2. Use Scraps as Recipe Ingredients

Much of what we consider food waste is still edible to various degrees; in other words, it’s still food! You just have to know how to use it. 

For example…

Leftover bones from turkey, beef, or chicken dishes can be used to make nutrient-packed bone broth for sipping or adding to soups or gravy. Vegetable stock can be made in a similar way.

3. Give Them New Life as a Household Item

Even if you can’t eat the scraps, they may still have plenty of utility around the house. Coffee grounds are an all-star example of this. They can be used as:

  • garden fertilizer
  • insect repellant
  • pet flea remover
  • odor neutralizer
  • pot and pan cleaner
  • skin exfoliator

and more!

Bacon grease is another goodie. You can use it in bird feeders in the winter (once strained), as a base for mayonnaise or gravy, as a cooking oil for eggs, as a butter substitute in baked goods, or to season cast iron cookware. 

Banana peels can sub in for pricey skin care products. You can use them as a moisturizer on dry skin, as a psoriasis treatment, a wart remover when taped in place overnight, and even as an acne scar treatment. Banana peels have also been found to contribute to oral health, and some people have even found them to help whiten teeth.  

Genius food scrap hacks are always popping up on the internet, and the odds are that no matter what form your food scraps take, there’s someone out there who’s found a clever way to repurpose it. So always take a look online before you decide food waste is useless. 

4. Regrow Them as Food

Taking parts of produce that are typically thrown away and transforming them into fresh produce is basically a superpower, but you don’t have to be a masked hero to pull it off. 

Grocery store staples such as tomatoes, strawberries, celery, carrots, ginger, and more can be regrown into new, edible servings for your use in the kitchen. 

Typically you’ll need just a few household items–a strainer, a jar, a little water–and soil and sunshine to make it work. You’ll not only cut your grocery bill, you’ll strengthen your food resilience and autonomy.

5. Bonus Idea: Feed a Farm Animal with Them

You may not live within 50 miles of a cow, and that’s OK; you’re off the hook with this one. But if you’re in a part of the world where there’s a farm nearby, you could ask the farmer if he’d be interested in some free food scraps that can supplement the diet of chickens, goats, pigs, and cows. Since it’s free for him, he may even be willing to come collect it from you.
Use Local Harvest’s farm finder to locate possible candidates near you.

What Not to Do: Put Them in Regular Trash

Throwing food scraps away should be your last resort, for several reasons. 

Not only will they end up in landfills, which have limited and ever-reducing space, but there they will undergo what’s called anaerobic (oxygen-free) composting. This type of decomposition produces additional methane gas, as well as ammonia-derived acids and hydrogen sulfide, which can leach into the ground or air and cause pollution.

Large landfill site

Methane is a known greenhouse gas, contributing to global climate change and the increase in temperature of the earth’s atmosphere and oceans. 

Methane is very effective at trapping heat, making it a very potent greenhouse gas. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) factor – a measure of how much heat the emissions of one ton of gas will absorb over a certain period of time, relative to one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) – gives methane a score between 27-30, giving it 30 times the warming power of CO2 over a 100 year period.

Ironically, even food waste that’s washed down the drain in your sink finds its way to the landfill eventually, only through a more laborious and expensive process. That organic material must be removed from wastewater at the sewage treatment plant, or else it can deprive the water downstream of oxygen that fish and aquatic plants need to thrive. 

Live in Houston? You Can Start Composting Right Now!

Houston residents can sign up for Moonshot’s weekly pickup service or you can elect to drop off your food waste whenever you feel like it. We provide the bins and bags, all you have to do is fill it with compostable items and put the bin out on collection day when we will swap your bin for a clean one.

To make it more satisying, you’ll be able to see the waste your diverting from landfills, CO2 saved, and more with our Diversion Dashboard.