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2012 Food Scrap Challenge Results


During the 2011-2012 school year, over 500 students from 6 cities signed up for the Food Scrap Challenge, organized by the Service-Learning Waste Reduction Project. Over 90% of the participating students pledged to take actions to help their families reduce the amount of food waste headed to the landfill.

Context
Food scraps and compostable food soiled paper (pizza boxes, cardboard lunch trays, fast food wrappers, etc) account for approximately 30% of all waste that Alameda County buries in the landfill.  Put another way, citizens of Alameda County send nearly 49,000 garbage trucks worth of compostable materials weighing over 340,000 tons to the dump each year.  Food scraps are the single largest category of items sent to the landfill each year.  (Waste Characterization Study)

Fortunately, Alameda County runs the largest food scrap program in the country. By using the green bin at home, families can help turn food scraps into useful compost that helps grow more food, reduces the impact on landfills and helps to reduce green house gas emissions.

Findings
Although Alameda County runs the largest food scrap program in the country, students reported varying levels of access to green bins and participation in the program. Across the county, 48% of students reported that their family regularly throws food scraps directly in the garbage while only 32% regularly use the green bin.  Other families use the garbage disposal (8%), place scraps in a compost pile at home (6%) or do something else with the scraps like feed pets, chickens, or worms (6%).

Where do families place their food scraps?

Garbage 48%
Green Bin 32%
Sink Disposal 8%
Compost Pile 6%
Other 6%

Access to green bins plays an important role in a family's ability to participate.  Students residing in single family homes were more than twice as likely to report access to green bins at home compared to students living in apartment buildings (60% vs 25%).  The lack of access at apartment buildings results in 60% of apartment dwelling families throwing food scraps in the garbage.

Countywide, only 51% of students were certain that they had access to a green bin where they live. 19% were certain that they did not have access, while a large number of students (30%) were not sure if they had access or not.

Who has access to green bins where they live?

Dewlling Type (# of responses) Yes No Doesn't know
Single Family Homes (295) 60% 11% 29%
Apartments (94) 26% 37% 37%
Rentals (56) 52% 15% 33%
Other (28) 55% 21% 24%
Duplex (16) 56% 31% 13%
Condo (14) 21% 43% 36%
Countywide (503) 51% 19% 30%

Actions
The Food Scrap Challenge encouraged students to help their families take a variety of actions to help reduce the amount of food being sent to the landfill including:

Stopping food waste before it starts by:

  1. Buying only what you need
  2. Paying attention to food expiration dates
  3. Saving your leftovers and eat them the next day
  4. Using food trimmings for soups and broths
  5. Donating excess food

Keeping food scraps out of the landfill by:

  1. Setting up a container in the kitchen to hold food waste until it can be taken to the green bin, home compost system, or worm bin.
  2. Remembering that the curbside green bin can handle all types of raw or cooked vegetables, meats, and food soiled paper. (Basically, if it was once alive, it can go in the green bin)  At the end of meals, scrape plates for diversion to the green bin.
  3. Feeding raw vegetable scraps to home compost systems and worm bins.

Check out the EPA's Food Waste Hierarchy for more best practices in reducing food waste.

Sample Project
As part of the food scrap challenge, students at Logan High School in Union City produced "before and after" studies of their family's use of the green bin at home and reported other actions the family took to reduce food scraps.  To help reduce waste, teacher Michelle Galaria trained the students to use google docs for a paper free assignment.

Students documented a dramatic increase in awareness for the types of materials that should be placed in the green bins and proof of their family's efforts with before and after photos (click through the images below)

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