Recycling food discards to other uses, including animal feed, composting, and energy generation, helps to keep food waste out of landfills. In addition, by recycling food waste we free up resources for other uses – and reap the benefits of fed animals, energy generation, and improved soil quality and carbon stocks.
Composting, a process that speeds up the natural decomposition of organic materials, provides a recycling alternative to tossing food waste in the garbage. Using compost as a soil amendment has a variety of benefits. For example, compost enhances rainfall penetration, which reduces water runoff and soil erosion. This in turn reduces sediment, nutrients, and pesticide losses to streams by 75-95 percent. Compost also improves the soil and enhances beneficial microbes that help reduce plant diseases and pests.
USDA and the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) provide a number of composting guides:
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service conducts research on composting and provides advice at http://www.ars.usda.gov/Research/docs.htm?docid=8818 and http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/compost/composting.pdf
Backyard Conservation, a cooperative project of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Association of Conservation Districts and the Wildlife Habitat Council, offers a series of guides for turning household wastes into valuable fertilizer and soil organic matter.
EPA provides information for composting at home. It also provides information for compost facilities, businesses, industry, and local governments.
EPA’s Waste Reduction Record-Setters Project fosters development of exceptional waste reduction programs by documenting successful ones. These programs can be used as models for others implementing their own programs to reduce waste. A fact sheet highlighting record-setting food recovery programs in commercial and institutional settings is at Don't Throw Away That Food: Strategies for Record-Setting Waste Reduction.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that if 50 percent of the food waste generated each year in the U.S. were anaerobically digested, enough electricity would be generated to power 2.5 million homes for a year.
EPA provides information on anaerobically digesting food waste.
USDA provides funding for the development of anaerobic digestion systems. Between 2003 and 2012, USDA’s Rural Development (RD) awarded more than $40 million for anaerobic digestion systems through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Additional funding awards to digesters have been made through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Innovation Grants, Value Added Producer Grants, and other sources. For more information see http://www.epa.gov/agstar/documents/agstar_federal_incentives.pdf
USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, in collaboration with the University of Maryland, is conducting research on technologies for digesting food waste in combination with dairy manure to provide low-cost treatment options for small to medium-scale farmers for producing renewable energy and reducing environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions.
EPA provides information on additional food waste recycling options: