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What IS this food everyone is reportedly wasting?

Following on from the 'let's waste less food' thread (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/825146) - what food do you actually 'waste'?

Where I live food waste is collected weekly by the council for making into compost for the city parks - each household has a lidded bucket into which they put the waste.
My bucket regularly contains coffee grounds, vegetable peelings, nut shells, olive seeds and squeezed out citrus fruit. There will be an occasional cheese rind or apple core - but that's about it.

What goes into your (hypothetical if you don't have one) bucket?

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  1. Our local authority has recently gone one better, Peg. The "green waste" bin now takes all food waste, along with the more obviously compostable stuff. So, in terms of food totally "wasted", we have zero. Even meat bones, plate clearings, etc, can now go in with the veg peelings and lawn cuttings.

    Actually it tends to be only the meat bones, etc, that goes in the council's bin as I have my own compost bins.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Harters

      Hi Harters - happy new year!
      Bristol lets us put in 'all cooked and uncooked food and dead flowers'. Cardboard gets mixed in with the food waste by the recycling people, so I add the occasional egg carton if I have no other card to recycle. Garden waste has to go in a separate green bin that is charged for - though I have sneaked the occasional dead houseplant into the food bin.

      1. re: Peg

        Happy New Year to you as well, Peg.

        Stockport has been pretty pro-active about encouraging recycling. We now have four bins - so my front garden now looks like a a wheely bin car park - green waste, glass & plastic, paper & card, everything else. As I said, all the food waste goes in the green bin, along with any plant material I don't compost myself.

        1. re: Harters

          How funny! That "wheely bin car park" comment is too true. Here in San Francisco, we've been alphabetizing our trash (I mean, carefully sorting into the various bins) for a couple of years now. In my crankier moments, I fantasize about filing an eminent domain suit against the city. Loss of use of my property! But it's all for the good I guess, and I'm not really as litigious as many of my fellow citizens...

    2. We used to scrape our waste into the pig trough bin at school in the 60s and 70s - I guess that's not allowed any more.

      3 Replies
      1. re: smartie

        Our collection is still called pig slops, although I'm not sure how it's processed. They do collect basically all food waste, though, as part of the recycling system.

        1. re: smartie

          Which is not allowed anymore? The use of the food waste or the pig trough?

        2. UK is clearly far more progressive than most parts of the US in recycling. Here there is city-wide recycling of paper, cans, bottles, etc. but not food waste. That is done in just a few progressive cities - certainly not in the DC area.

          I am continually dismayed by the number of people putting recyclables in their trash bins, when they could have used a designated recycle container. And don't get me started on the number of public venues that have trash cans but no recycle cans.

          So, yeah, lots of food waste here unless you compost it yourself. I actually *drive* my compost 2X/week to my garden plot where there is a communal compose bin.

          26 Replies
          1. re: tcamp

            But peelings etc are not 'waste' - I understood from the original thread that people throw away actual edible food.

            1. re: Peg

              I think the thread illustrated the people tend to "waste" different types of food. I read once that more than 50% of restaurant leftovers taken home by diners end up being tossed. That isn't an issue in my leftover-lovin' house but certainly adds to the waste load. I'm more likely to forget about a cucumber in the back of the veg drawer until it liquifies.

              1. re: tcamp

                I also suspect that the people who participate in threads like that are not wasting as much as the their neighbors. To use a 1970s illustration, Barbara Good was more worried about what they wasted than Margo Leadbetter.

                1. re: paulj

                  Margo was rich and didn't care, Barbara was the new age hippie gone housewife - wow that makes me feel old thinking how long ago that show was.

              2. re: Peg

                It's not entirely clear what waste the OP in that thread was worried about. Apparently she lives on ranch (not clear whether it was a working or hobby one), some distance from town. So her shopping is weekly, and waste is probably composted, or feed to animals, etc.

                There are people who can't stand to eat leftovers, so those get tossed. For others the problem is produce that spoils before it gets used, e.g. half a bunch of parsley or cilantro, lettuce, carrots that have shriveled up. Some worry about half used jars of condiments that accumulate in the fridge.

                In these UK examples, I suspect that the cost of waste disposal is driving the public composting projects and recycling systems. While the same is true in some American cities, in others the garbage dump or 'sanitary land fill' remains the cheapest disposal method (i.e. land is cheaper than labor).

                1. re: paulj

                  For us, it's spoonfuls here and there - I tossed a tablespoon or two of egg mayo after lunch - not enough to do another sandwich, and I also threw out two parsnips which had gone mouldy when we had been away for Christmas. I meal plan so try to recycle leftovers into packed lunches, and it's (very) rare that I'll through a portion of a meal out because it's gone bad before it can be eaten.

                  Our council is BRILLIANT about recycling - we don't even have to sort our recycling. Anything recycleable - plastic, glass, batteries, cans, paper etc. just gets tipped into a big blue wheelie bin and the council collects and sorts it. Food waste goes into the garden waste bin. It's brilliant.

                  I could be wrong, but I suspect that the EU has imposed targets (ie, each council must recycle X% of its collection) which really has helped in the UK.

                  1. re: paulj

                    I was the OP of the thread you are talking about. My main concern was the batches of already cooked food that was wasted plus all the unused veggies & fruits rotting in the fridge for all kinds of reasons. My observations started when I began to try & figure out why my grocery bill was getting higher & higher. Yeah, food prices are way up...well, I started looking around my kitchen & fridge & it was obvious, I am out of control with wasting food. I started noticing what is wasted in restaurants, family gatherings, wherever food was in sight. Grocery stores tossing rotten avocados out because they were priced too high to begin with. No, they could not give/sell to the public this waste because of some sort of regulations.

                    Well, I could not do much about what I was seeing out there, but I sure as heck could change what was happening in my world. With all the advice from that thread, I cut down my own bill to half of what it was 2 weeks ago. I could not believe it. If the other food wasters would buckle down like I did, there would be a lot less ending up in landfills. There is not one excuse for food being wasted.

                    Compost bins, recycling programs & whatnot is NOT the answer. We just need to buy less & cook less & make sure each food item gets used up somehow.

                    Of course there is always going to be some waste, but that small amount is not what is ending up in landfills.

                    1. re: cstout

                      Yes, I mostly agree with you. Alot of it is summoning the personal discipline to buy less and use up what you have (I'm working on it too). But waste is endemic in all parts of the food lifecycle, from growing and packing to ultimate disposal. So in a sense, composting and recycling *does* help in that the amount of waste ending up in landfills or whatever the waste disposal mechanism exists. In my city, municipal solid waste is incinerated at a waste to energy (steam) plant.

                      Good for you at making such a noticable difference so quickly!

                      1. re: cstout

                        I did not mean to imply that 'composting is he answer' - I simply meant that as all my 'food waste' goes in a recycling bin I am extremely (and accurately) aware of what food I am throwing away. If it was filling up with uneaten cooked food or raw ingredients I would know something was wrong - either with my portion control or my shopping habits.

                        1. re: Peg

                          Please forgive me dear Peg if you thought I was pointing the finger at you about composting....no no. I was meaning that composting is not the answer for folks like me who used the compost pile as a means to not feel so guilty about the wasted food.

                          In other words, composting for me was an excuse or cop out. After all, that food went to the chickens or pile....how bad is that???? You folks who use it for what it is intended - "scraps"...are doing the right thing! In the right hands it is a good thing.

                        2. re: cstout

                          Hi cstout,
                          I feed wild deer. And there are quite a few deer in the woods directly behind my local Wal-Mart. One evening as I was going to the feeding area I happened to see a Wal-Mart employee dumping about a bushel of apples into a dumpster bin. It just so happens that deer love apples and they don't care if there is a spot or two.
                          You know what comes next. I was at that dumpster salvaging some apples. I very quickly started wondering why the store was throwing away perfectly good apples? Heck, I would eat the apples myself if they happened to be McIntosh. It became McIntosh for me, red and yellow Delicious for the deer. Then I noticed that they were throwing away nicely ripe Avacodos. I could buy the Avacados inside that were rock hard and unripe or salvage them from the dumpster that were just nicely ripe. Finally I figured out that anything with a tough or thick skin was quite likely to be good fruit. Fruit such as oranges, lemons, just barely ripe bananas, the above mentioned Avacados, and so on. For awhile I was eating a lot more fruit than was normal for me.
                          Lots of the fruit had nothing wrong with it other than being past it's "sell by" date. I even got two nicely ripe watermelons one time. A thick hide remember? Got me to thinking about making some watermelon wine. In the meantime the deer certainly loved the apples,pears and similar fruits.
                          Then one evening I found that there were LOCKS on the dumpsters. In case you have never noticed, Wal-Mart has video cameras hung nearly every place that one can be placed. I counted 40 video cameras on the outside walls all the way around the Wal-Mart store. Apparently I was noticed visiting the dumpsters. No more apples for the deer. Wasted food? To be sure. Every kind of fruit and vegetable that you can think of. Whole dumpsters FULL. Two of them emptied twice a week. Now locked up.

                          1. re: dhmill

                            It's shocking how much food stores throw away. I have a guy living in my backyard Quonset hut (who would otherwise be homeless), and he dumpster dives all kinds of food. The chi-chi bakery across the street throws away lots of bread, and sometimes muffins and pastries as well: they'd rather throw it out than discount it and undercut their prices. Trader Joe's and CVS are other regular stops on his rounds.

                            1. re: dhmill

                              Yes, dhmill, it is totally disgusting that the big wigs would rather lock it up than share with anyone.

                              I used to know an elderly lady that ran a wildlife rescue center & would get all the produce scraps from people like Wal Mart, but they had new rules & she could not meet them out back anymore to have help putting the boxes of stuff in her vehicle. She eventually had to close the rescue center because not enough funds were coming in to feed the birds & animals on a daily basis.

                              No amount of persuasion could convince the produce manager that the food was going to an animal rescue farm. Very sad for her & her animals. Health regulations, you know.

                            2. re: cstout

                              Biggest factor for me in reducing food waste? BUYING A SMALLER FRIDGE! Means that left overs don't get lost in the back, and there is room for only so much so I better eat it before I can restock it.
                              Seriously, the size of fridges is getting outrageous, double doored double wide sub zeros with oodles and oodles and oodles of space, most of which is filled with so much food that slowly rots before it can physically be eaten.
                              European fridges are tiny, thus promoting the buy and eat philosophy, meaning less food waste IMHOl

                              1. re: freia

                                freia,
                                Europe is not such a good example to use. European fridges are small because the operating cost is so high. For the same reason the European cars are quite often very small. The gasoline costs two or three times what ours does.
                                The cost of living is apparently very high in Europe. Yesterday I was reading the blog from a woman in Germany. Her apartment rent is apparently very high. So how does she cope with that? You may laugh at her solution. She rents the use of her living room couch on a nightly basis. Now she has added two matresse's that are on the floor. She will also rent her bed if you insist upon a bed and she'll sleep on her couch. In effect, she is recycling her space.
                                I have solved my problems with lemons. I have made recipies that called for only the zest of lemon. Now, what do I do with the lemon? One day I had to use the juice only of two lemons. And I remembered the need for lemon zest. I had used most of the lemon pulp and now I had the lemon skin left. The light bulb comes on. I sliced the lemon into circles and put them into a zip lock bag and into the freezer door. Frozen they will last a long time. Now when I need some lemon zest, I take out one or two lemon circles, let them thaw and viola, I've got lemon zest without using the whole lemon. Waste not, want not. Of course if you are making lemonade you could end up with too much lemon zest. LOL Be creative! Lemon zest in pancakes is quite tasty.

                                1. re: dhmill

                                  Sure its a great example...this isn't a consideration of WHY fridges are smaller in Europe or how high the cost of living is. Its merely a consideration of the fact that a smaller fridge means less storage space which means less opportunity to chuck something in the fridge and forget about it which means that food items are visible and you buy what you need for the moment instead of bulk buying and storing and eventually pitching stuff away.
                                  As for cars, well, the more expensive the car and operating costs and the more restrictive the access to the downtown core and the worse the parking, the higher the use of public transport and bicycles and walking and less of a "car culture", the fitter and healthier the population and the less gas emissions from single driver cars flooding the streets like they do in North America. Not necessarily bad. But I digress -- I still stand by the fact that the smaller the fridge the less food in it to spoil and the more likely one is to buy and eat "just in time" which means less overall food wastage.

                                  1. re: freia

                                    Freia,

                                    Of course you are correct to a certain extent. Although I have never lived in Europe I have spent some time there. One reason that many of the European residents shop every day is because their fridges are so small. And although there are supermarkets there is not much need for places where you can buy a week's worth of food when many homes have no means to store it all. It often leads to a more relaxed way of living because most have to shop for dinner every day. Actually the neighborhood is much like a supermarket except that it's not all under one roof. You will have the bakery which is right next door to the vegetable shop which is right next door to the butcher shop which is right next door to the fruit shop. The daily shopping can be viewed as a daily bother or as a way to relax. I will say that one is more likely to have a personal relationship with each shop owner. With not much more than milk stored for a longer term in the fridge.

                                    I'm not so sure about having less of a car culture. Just ask an Italian in Italy how he feels about the Alfa Romao or the Ferrari. On the other hand, I have a collector car which would be extremly difficult to drive on the streets of most European cities. It's a 1970 Caddilac Fleetwood Sedan. At 22 feet long I could not make either a right nor left turn at most of the intersections in Naples, Italy. However, those very narrow streets were packed with both cars and people. It is interesting to stand chatting at a street corner and have the seat of your pants dusting the sides of cars as they drove by. Very narrow streets. Most of those cars would be hard pressed to carry a week's worth of groceries even if you could find a supermarket.

                                    Speaking of food. One of the best and worst meals that I have ever had anywhere were both in Naples, Italy. We dined al fresco at a lovely hilltop restaurant which had a beautiful view of Naples Bay and Mount Vesuvius. They served a thick pizza which was both raw dough inside and charred like charcoal black on the bottom. I presume that the restaurant threw that pizza away even though they had used a small oven.

                                    1. re: dhmill

                                      How is Freia only partially correct? Small fridges do (at least in my experience - my food waste was WAY less when I had a half-sized fridge) lend themselves to less food wastage. If Euros waste less food for other reasons, too, or if the style of shopping for and storing food in Europe is different, that doesn't really have any bearing on whether or not small fridges are generally good when it comes to food wastage. I don't understand what your arguing, Dhmill - if you ARE arguing...I could be misunderstanding, too!

                                      1. re: dhmill

                                        What I mean by "car culture" is the overriding urge to have 2 or 3 family cars and to drive everywheres as we do in North America. I don't mean a lack of love or appreciation for cars. Something like 1/3 of all meals in the USA are now eaten behind the wheel. Unheard of in Italy. And as there are exhorbitant car and highway taxes, restrictions on driving into the city centres of most cities, pedestrian only areas, and a great public transit system, there is less reliance on a car and more on public transit. walking, and bicycling.
                                        And I still stand by the statement that having a smaller fridge (as they do in Europe) means less food wastage as less food is hidden/forgotten.
                                        :)

                                        1. re: freia

                                          1/3 of meals are eaten behind the wheel in the US? How does that work? You mean people going through drivethrus? Damn. 1/3. That is...shocking, in a way. And wouldnt you get covered in grease?

                                          That said, I share the N American love of the open road. And am jealous of dhmill's giant boat car.

                                    2. re: dhmill

                                      "European fridges are small because the operating cost is so high."

                                      ROFLMAO.

                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Harters, I wodnered about that statement, too, but I dont KNOW what the case is. Having lived on and off in the UK since I was a baby, it always struck me how things were smaller there, and in Europe. Cars, food (i.e. in supermarkets, packages seemed smaller), appliances. I always assumed appliances were smaller because they had to fit into smaller kitchens, smaller spaces. Also, the UK/Europe does seem ahead of N America when it comes to being energy saving and green-this and that. So, why ARE the appliances smaller? Is it a space thing? I'm also assuming that smaller = greener, which seems like a fairly solid assumption?

                                        1. re: montrealeater

                                          As you suspect, montrealeater, entirely a matter of space. Most fridges, in the UK, are designed to fit under the counter top. Mine is rarely full - not even when we've just done the weekly visit to the supermarket.

                                          As for annual cost of running a fridge - it's negligable at around £20 (hence the original ROFLMAO)

                                      2. re: dhmill

                                        European fridges are not smaller because of the costs but because it is by far not that common to only go once a week shopping like many Americans do that I know. My parents still buy fresh ingredients every day for cooking and so simply don't need a larger fridge. People here on the US are always so surprised when we tell them that we go grocery shopping every 1-2 days.
                                        And I wish that the cost of living would be much cheaper in the US than in Europe. At least here in San Diego it is definitely not the case. Rent alone is at least twice ad high than in Hamburg (which is already one of the more expensive places in Germany). Many food items are often more expensive than in Europe, e.g. produce, good bread, good organic meat like grassfed beef etc

                                      3. re: freia

                                        I'd waste less with a bigger fridge- I could see everything and have clear compartmentalization.

                                        1. re: jvanderh

                                          jvanderh, bigger fridge...you are absolutely right. I have the side by side 2 door type & they really don't hold diddly when you get down to it. The freezer side is narrow in width & is a pain to stack foods in there. The fridge side shelves are not convenient, no matter how you rearrange them. The older model with a freezer on the top & the remainder being fridge was great...wider & more light, the whole works. Oh yes, one wide door to open...Give me one of those plain ones any day...I'll even take white & forget about stainless steel, brushed steel or whatever. I am so glad there is someone else out there fighting this dilemma....UGHHHHHHHHH. I curse my fridge every day, but I am stuck with that baby. Isn't it amazing when you don't like something, it keeps lasting forever?

                              2. UK posters, can you please let me know if people who live by composting sites complain of the smell? We are about to build one here in Portland. And the future neighbors (Lents) are fighting it, worried about odor and traffic: http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/in...

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                  There are 69 recycling sites across my city and surrounding area - the only one I've heard of being an issue was when the council proposed to make it bigger. It certainly isn't an on-going problem. (only a few of the sites take food waste - most are glass/metal.fabric etc).

                                  1. re: pdxgastro

                                    In my area, the green and food waste is shipped away for composting. However, the local authorities in the metro area are building enclosed local processing plants. I assume enclosing the process will miimise any issue for residents - the locations also seem to be industrial, rather than residential areas. http://www.gmwda.gov.uk/services-and-...

                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                      I'm not in the UK, but in Halifax, Canada. I believe ( confident but not certain) we had the first municipal composting in North America. The compost facilities don't have an odour from the outside. Neither, by the way, do the new (mostly) organics-free landfills.

                                      1. re: pdxgastro

                                        Not in the UK, but so. CA, and when we first started composting in our suburban home, I was worried about odors, for us and our neighbors, and I was pleasantly surprised to find no odor at all. We occasionally add some organic starter to keep the composter hot, a little extra water now & then (so. CA is dry, dry, dry) and it actually smells sweet and earthy.

                                        1. re: pine time

                                          When I was living in Riverside and gardening I found a problem with large rats raiding my compost pile. What was called roof rats. I had to put my compost inside of closable metal containers.

                                          1. re: dhmill

                                            Compost pile, I have had every varmint there is raid my compost pile...sometimes I think I am just attracting varmints instead of making dirt. They tip over the containers & get in there anyway.

                                            Luckily, I have learned much from the people posting here & my "waste" is getting way way down. Not really any need to compost anymore to speak of.

                                        2. re: pdxgastro

                                          We have several facilities in Edmonton (Canada) and just a few months back a few neighbouring communities were complaining about the stench from the West end one.

                                          According to cbc.ca they were taking in more garbage then they wre licensed to so the province shut them down. "the facility was failing to comply with theEnvironmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Code of Practice for Compost Facilities and ordered the plant to stop accepting waste and deal with its odour problem."

                                        3. For me, it's produce that just doesn't get eaten. And I don't compost it because I hate the compost smell, so it gets chucked.

                                          To the Portland poster, above, mt parents compost in southern British Columbia and it attracts rats. Not tons of them, but enough to have warranted getting a couple of cats. Now they no longer have live rats, just disemboweled dead ones. :)

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: montrealeater

                                            I have had compost piles for over 20 years and am unfamiliar with the "compost smell". A well managed pile does not smell.

                                            1. re: magiesmom

                                              Even indoors? My parents keep a bucket in the kitchen to throw all the composting materials into before they take it to the outdoor pile and that thing definitely has a smell. I have a hard time believing that a pile of rotting organic matter doesn't smell, but I'm open to being wrong.

                                              1. re: montrealeater

                                                Montreal, that's not "compost smell" in the kitchen bucket, it's just "rotting veggie scraps", and that can be ugly. I have a large plastic veg scraps bin near the sink that needs to be emptied every 2 days or will smell icky. But my big compost bin smells earthy and rich and mushroomy and pleasant, think forest floor in rain.

                                                Your parents may need to empty and/or rinse/sanitize that bucket more often, maybe?

                                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                  I also keep my bucket under the sink. It is plastic, with a replaceable filter in the top. I line the bottom with newspaper (which also goes into compost pile), put about 1/2 cup of white vinegar in, then add food waste. It is emptied outside about twice a week but sometimes only once. Very rarely do you smell anything at all. There are lots of coffee grounds in there, I think they have a deoderizing effect or else I just like that smell.

                                              2. re: magiesmom

                                                Key words -- well managed. I'd guess 90 percent of compost piles aren't well managed, either through neglect or through lack of knowledge. I live beside one of these well-meaning but uninformed and unmotivated people. Easy for them to toss something on the compost heap, but apparently impossible for them to layer properly, water, turn, and manage.

                                                1. re: freia

                                                  freia,
                                                  A handful of red worms will do wonders in a compost pile. In just a short time there will be thousands of those little critters. Red worms seem to like compost piles better than common earthworms although earthworms will work. Just not as effectively. Both kinds of worms simply love coffee grounds.

                                                  1. re: dhmill

                                                    You are so right about the worms. At our community garden we have two open compost bins. One gets all of the church coffee grounds on Sunday, plus other household and garden waste. I was standing there looking at the bins and noticed that the coffee grounds one was swarming with red worms while the other, no observable worms. Now there is a sign asking coffee composters to switch bins periodically.

                                                    1. re: dhmill

                                                      Oh I absolutely agree! It isn't me with the heap it's my neighbor, who often starts projects with the best of intentions and never follows through. Right now, he has 2 composters going in the back and one is in half, as in the top half is missing, so he just chucks food scraps into the bottom half and walks away. No worms, no layering, and the bins are in shady spots underneath a heavy tree canopy. No chance of the heaps getting hot enough in our climate given their location. And Vermiculture is catching on here, but again, that would cost money to seed the heaps and he certainly won't learn about it nor investigate it. After all, this is the fellow who after Christmas, opens his patio door and throws his Christmas tree out into the back yard. It sits there until mid-summer. Seriously. We have a running bet in the neighborhood as to when he'll dispose of the tree. Last year, he dragged it into the Conservation Area behind our houses and dumped it at the base of his neighbor's property. It was promptly dragged back UP the hill and propped up against his front door with a note to dispose of it properly. This happened last July. Sigh.

                                                      1. re: freia

                                                        Throw the old Christmas tree into a nearby pond. The fish will love the shelter.