Ask Eartha: A guide to composting Halloween pumpkins (column)
Special to the Daily
I saw a sign referring to pumpkin composting. What is it? Why is it important? — Meaghan, Breckenridge
Meaghan, I am so glad that you asked about this new opportunity for composting! Timberline Disposal, LLC, in partnership with the High Country Conservation Center, is sponsoring free composting for your Halloween pumpkins. This is the first time that this service is being offered to Summit County residents, and it is a great opportunity to divert this large amount of waste away from the landfill.
Food and organic waste — pumpkins in this case — does not break down properly in an anaerobic environment of a landfill. The lifespan of a landfill is based on of the amount of airspace in a cell. To ensure getting the most life out of a landfill cell, waste is compacted constantly, making the cell environment one that is devoid of oxygen. This causes food to rot, rather than break down, creating methane gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than CO2, so it is important to divert food waste and organic material away from the landfill as often as possible.
Millions of pounds of pumpkins will be turning into trash destined for landfills, adding to more than 254 million tons of municipal solid waste produced annually in the U.S. Pumpkins are not the only problem, however. In 2013, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans threw away an estimated 37 million tons of food waste, and only about 5 percent of that was either composted or used for energy. Worldwide, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that nearly one third of all food produced is either wasted or lost. This fact is spurring some European countries to ban food waste in the landfills and encouraging them instead to either re-purpose uneaten food to food banks or to those in need or compost the inedible food.
There are two primary ways that you can reduce your amount of food waste: Reducing fresh food purchased and through composting. First, plan your meals based on what you already have in your refrigerator, only buy what you need on your list and be realistic about what you can use in a timely manner. Also, figure out how to store fruits and vegetables, so that they last longer. You can freeze some items, so that they may be used at a later date. Secondly, compost the food scraps that you do throw out. The High Country Conservation Center offers a Food Scrap Recycling Program where residents may bring up to 10 gallons a week of food scraps to either the Breckenridge or Frisco recycling drop centers for a small fee.
Reducing the amount of food waste and organics that you and your family send to the landfill has many benefits. By buying only the food that you will eat immediately, you will also be saving money. In addition, by not purchasing excess food, you will be saving the energy and resources needed to produce the food in the first place. And, finally, you can support your community by sending excess untouched food to those who do not have a regular food supply.
So, back to the pumpkins: You may compost these by bringing your former Halloween decorations to either the Frisco or Breckenridge recycling drop centers. The receptacles for the pumpkins are available now until Nov 13. The recycling centers where these bins are located are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The pumpkins are then taken up to the composting facility at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park, where it is composted through a wind row process. The finished product may then be used for gardening or landscape applications.
I encourage all of you reading this to compost your leftover pumpkins from Halloween, so that this service can be offered year after year. In Summit County, we are lucky to have the ability to compost, so let’s do our best to ensure that our pumpkins do not become a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at email@example.com.
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