Green tip #1: From scraps to super soil

Youth Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Jonescu dumps some lunch scraps into a tumbling composting bin.

Youth Volunteer Coordinator Courtney Jonescu dumps some lunch scraps into a tumbling composting bin.

Your lunch break is ending, and you’re feeling full. You just can’t finish the last few bites of that banana, and the rest of those fries have gone cold. Or maybe, those week-old leftovers don’t taste as fresh as you hoped.

Whatever the reason, many of us end up with extra food at the end of a meal. We clean up our mess, toss what’s left in the trash, and go on with our day.

While it doesn’t seem like much to throw out a little extra or spoiled food, it may surprise you to find out that about a third of our food is wasted each year. And not just at the consumption level, but also during production and distribution. That’s a lot of waste!

Victor Peck takes his job seriously as the Zoo's garden guru.

Victor Peck takes his job seriously as the Children Zoo’s garden guru.

So what’s the big deal? When food is thrown out, it gets mixed in with the rest of our trash, making its way to landfills. Once in the landfill, food waste and other garbage produce methane gas. Methane gas emissions are extremely potent (more potent than CO2) and contribute to global warming.

Our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo staff members eat lunch together in the break room each day. We noticed that a lot of food was being thrown away, so we decided to make a difference for our environment and began composting our lunch scraps. Did you know that 20-30% of what we throw away can actually be used for composting?

The Children’s Zoo already had existing compost tumblers, so it was an easy transition to begin collecting our leftovers. Compost is basically decomposed organic matter that breaks down into a soil amendment. This compost is then used in our garden beds right here in the Children’s Zoo farmyard.

“Thanks to compost, we have never bought fertilizer for the Children’s Zoo farmyard gardens in 16 years of use,” said Victor Peck, Children’s Zoo specialist and master of our farmyard garden. Victor’s been integral in making our compost dreams happen. He’s taken the responsibility of garden guru seriously, and he’s always happy to help others get involved. “People often ask me, ‘What can go in the compost from your meals?’ ” he says. “And the answer is… if it can’t go in the compost, then what was it doing on your plate?!”

Anyone can compost, even without a large tumbler or a big back yard. A range of indoor compost bins are on the market, or you can make your own. If you do have a yard, outdoor composting can be done in a bin or a contained pile. “Put the pile near your garden for ease of use,” advises Victor.

This guide from the Environmental Protection Agency can be a good starting point.

Still wondering how composting leftover food can help the environment? Remember, food that enters the landfill creates methane gas while breaking down very slowly. Landfill environments lack oxygen and moisture, necessary elements of proper composting. This methane gas produced by the waste is a greenhouse gas, which contributes to global warming.

On the flip side, food waste which enters the composting process is only mixed with organic material, and also has plenty of moisture and oxygen, both key components of this process. By composting food waste, we can eliminate some of the methane emissions that enter the atmosphere.

Composting is safe and easy to do. You can even use worms! Red wigglers are great for composting. The EPA also lists these benefits of composting:

  • Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

Start your compost now and turn your scraps into something good. Stay tuned for more tips from your Dallas Zoo Green Team!

Interested in assisting in a Zoo conservation project? CLICK HERE to learn more about our Green Team.

Composters come in all sizes.

Composting bins come in sizes big and small for all types of homes or workplaces.

Composting turns lunch scraps into lush, green gardens.

Composting turns lunch scraps into lush, green gardens in the Children’s Zoo.

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  1. Pingback: Green tip #2: Five ways to help the earth (and your pocketbook!) this summer | Dallas ZooHoo!

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