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ASK EARTHA: Recycle Your Food Scraps in Summit County

 In Ask Eartha

Dear Eartha, I love recycling my food scraps because it saves me space in my trash can and I feel good shrinking my environmental impact. I have noticed recently though, that trash is starting to get dumped into the food scrap bins. It’s so discouraging. Is there anything we can do?

Even if you’re a kitchen whiz who’s really good at crafting creative meals from leftovers, those coffee grinds, banana peels, and eggshells add up over time. The U.S. government estimates that more food waste – 37 million tons annually – ends up in the trash than any other single material. So, pat yourself on the back, because you and over 1,800 of your Summit County neighbors have joined the community’s free Food Scrap Program. For any readers not yet enrolled, sign up is free and easy at HighCountryConservation.org.

This program is the easiest way to divert your food waste from the landfill because you simply collect food scraps at your home – in anything from a countertop container to a sealed bucket– and dump them at one of four centrally-located drop-off sites around Summit County. From there, food waste is taken to the Summit County Resource Allocation Park, where it’s turned into a nutrient-rich soil amendment.

So, while you are enjoying a lighter, less stinky trash can, you can also celebrate how all your food scraps are kept out of the landfill. So far in 2021, the Food Scrap Recycling program has diverted more than 164,000 pounds of food waste from the county landfill. This is incredible! But as you have experienced, we can all do better.

Food Scraps ONLY
It is completely understandable how you are discouraged when you see trash in the food scrap bins—of course, you don’t want your hard work to go to waste (pun intended). When unaccepted items end up in the food scrap pile, it’s called contamination. Contamination leads not only to low-quality compost but can also cause everyone’s food scraps to end up in the landfill. Here are a few things we all can do to keep the food scrap program free, and free from trash:

  • Lock it Up: Locking the bins EVERY time you drop off food waste prevents trash dumping. When you set a good example, others are more likely to follow your lead. Tell your friends, tell your family, and be a lock leader when dropping off food scraps. Locks giving you grief? Call HC3 at 970-668-5703 if you’re having trouble with the locks.

  • Stay Informed: The free food scrap program accepts food scraps only. That means no paper products, and no “compostable” bags or cutlery. By signing up for the Food Scrap Program, you’ll be informed of lock code changes, compost giveaways, and other updates like the new drop-off location at Lord of the Mountains Church in Dillon.
  • Celebrate the Wins: When ballot measure 1A/Strong Future passed back in November 2018, the Food Scrap Program became free to all Summit County residents. It is all thanks to you, the voters, for making composting easy and economical for all residents in our community. Food scrap recycling participation has expanded from just a few hundred people and 106,400 lbs. diverted in 2019 to well over 1,800 participants and 164,000 lbs. diverted from January-August 2021.

You are Making a Difference

Participating in Summit County’s Food Scrap Program is one way to act on climate change. Consider what happens when food ends up in landfills. It releases methane, a greenhouse gas more powerful than carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills in the U.S. are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the country.

The end result of food scrap recycling – compost – has other benefits, too. Applied to agricultural fields and even home gardens, compost provides nutrients and can be used in place of chemical fertilizers, which are often made with fossil fuels. Compost also increases the organic content of the soil, which helps the soil hold more moisture. That’s super important in our arid mountain environment.

Thank you to all our food scrap participants for making the effort to recycle your food scraps right and stay vigilant about locking the bins. You are truly making an impact to reduce local emissions. If you’re not signed up for the food scrap program yet, join now! It’s free and an easy way we can all take climate action.

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