When you see the leftover or rotted food in your fridge or pantry at home, your first instinct is probably to throw it away. In the United States, you are certainly not alone, as each year we throw away tens of billions of pounds of food. While trying to reduce this amount of wasted food is an entirely different issue, we can at least take one small step in saving our environment by learning how to use this waste efficiently.
Before you decide to throw your uneaten food away in the trash bin, along with other non-recyclable materials, stop and realize that this material can be used resourcefully. While food that is spoiled or rotten may initially seem to be useless, it can actually have a large and beneficial contribution to the growth of more food. Exposure to oxygen over long periods of time allows the organic material from naturally-grown foods, especially plants, to decompose into rich soil. This material is called “compost”. Specifically, at the Furman Farm, this compost is used in the garden, and its nutrients aid the healthy growth of plants in many different ways.
As the Assistant Composting Fellow for the Shi Center for Sustainability here at Furman University, I see the amount of food that is wasted on campus each day, and it can be quite disheartening. However, knowing that the university is putting effort into decreasing the amount of waste they produce through various Shi Center Programs, I am able to have faith for the future of our growing community. Almost all of the unconsumed food from the dining areas on campus goes to an area slightly off campus known as W.R. Grace. Here, many large garbage cans of food waste are dumped in enormous piles and left to sit for long periods of time. This sitting period gives the food time to fully decompose, so that it is eventually able to break down enough to be suitable for use in the garden.
While there are several other ways that unconsumed food can be useful and beneficial to the environment, this technique is very relevant to Furman’s sustainability program. It has a significant impact on the fresh vegetables that students and faculty eat every day in the dining hall. Who knew wasted food could be so directly involved in the process of growing more food?