Iowans threw away an estimated 556,000 tons of food in 2017, with the share of food in the waste stream up 50 percent since 2011, according to a new statewide waste characterization study from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Food waste — including spoiled sour cream, tainted takeout or past-its-prime produce — accounted for 20 percent of the landfilled materials in the 2017 Iowa Statewide Waste Characterization Study, an inventory of the trash, recyclables and compostables Iowans send to the landfill.
Food waste was not only the largest component of Iowa’s waste stream, but it was up from 13.7 percent in the 2011 statewide study and 10.6 percent in 2005.
This is going the wrong direction for a goal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reduce food waste nationwide by 50 percent by 2030. By slashing food waste from 219 pounds per person in 2010 to 109.4 pounds by 2030, the U.S. would reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and help feed hungry Americans, the EPA reports.
For Iowa’s waste characterization study, the DNR hired SCS Engineers, of Clive, to study the waste streams from 15 landfills and transfer stations across the state from May to July. Included in the sites were the Cedar Rapids/Linn County landfill in Marion and Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center.
Waste composition at the sites is extrapolated out to develop statewide waste estimates.
“Those studies have been very beneficial for us,” said Joe Horaney, spokesman for the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency. In 2011, “we had a lot of wood waste, which was a reflection of the post flood 2008, so we started a wood diversion program.”
Organics, which include food waste, were 31.5 percent of the waste stream in 2017, followed by paper at 25.5 percent and plastics at 18.3 percent.
Some Iowa cities have started to offer residents curbside pickup of food waste.
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In Cedar Rapids, residents may put food in their green Yardy carts and many stores and restaurants use haulers, like Green RU, to take food waste to the Mount Trashmore compost facility. County food waste goes to the Marion landfill, where staff use an on-site generator to convert captured methane to enough electricity each day to power 1,100 Linn County homes.
Since March, Iowa City residents have been allowed to put food waste, including meat and eggs, as well as uncoated paper products like pizza boxes and paper plates into yard waste bins that include a special sticker for curbside pickup. The new curbside program is expected to double the 600 tons of compost the city generates each year.
The state waste characterization study also looked at the economic impact of recyclables dumped in the trash. Based on regional market prices in October 2017, the value of the common recyclable paper and containers Iowans are landfilling is more than $60 million, the study found.
Funding for the study comes from a portion of the solid waste tonnage fee through the Solid Waste Alternatives Program. The full report is at www.iowadnr.gov/FABA under Studies & Reports.
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