When you toss those week-old leftovers in the trash, you're contributing to the planet's greenhouse gas woes. That's one of the takeaways of Susan Shain's piece for the New York Times: She explains that food generates methane—"a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide"—as it decomposes in landfills (composting food releases less of it). When you consider that food waste is the No. 1 item pouring into our landfills and factor in the additional emissions tied to the production and transportation of food that goes uneaten, you have a big carbon footprint. One the Columbus-area Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, or SWACO, set out to tackle.
Shain gives much of the credit for progress in the area to SWACO innovation director Kyle O’Keefe, who realized he couldn't just create better systems—he had to get people to care. He did this with numbers: by trumpeting the $1,500 the average family in the area spends each year on food that isn't eaten, for instance. SWACO also hired consultants that put a number on how much food families were wasting by literally going through their trash cans—sorting through "diapers, cat litter, fistfuls of maggots" and then weighing all the food waste found. A follow-up audit found a 21% drop in the volume of food waste. And then there are the kids. A SWACO grant to the Hilliard City Schools district in 2018 led to changes at its elementary schools that allowed it to sharply reduce trash and recycling pickups, saving it $22,000 the next school year and preventing 100 tons of food from ending up in landfills. (Read the full story for much more.)