To the Editor:
We lost a lifelong advocate for our planet last month. James Lovelock, environmental scientist and Gaia theory architect, viewed the planet as one organism made of living and nonliving parts. One interaction, he believed, has a cause and effect on another interaction. Today, the consequences of his words are seen and felt — the choices we make every day affect the fabric and fragility of our planet.
I was a planet procrastinator. After watching so many living treasures permanently lost, I realized the planet needs more advocates than excuses. My green journey started as a volunteer with Wilton Go Green, a local not-for-profit dedicated to educating and engaging residents of all ages on sustainable living. I transitioned from plastic/single-use items to reusable products and made a habit of giving away more than I threw away. I bought a hybrid car. I presented my recycled glass cup like a badge of honor at all of my favorite coffee places. I felt good about the small changes I was making every day to care for our planet. Swapping stories of green habits with Wilton residents inspired me to learn and do more.
I dug deeper to understand the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, the source of climate change. Fossil fuels easily topped the list. Factoring in the near-term dependence on fossil fuels, what was the biggest impact I could make in reducing my carbon footprint? I found the answer in my own home. The smelly surprise was food waste, the second largest source of air pollution behind fossil fuels. Food waste as a country would trail only China and the US as the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Locally, the average family throws out one in every four bags of food accounting for 25% of our solid waste in Connecticut. And where does all that go? Burn baby, burn, that’s where. Incinerators burn our food and create more dangerous levels of toxic pollution for our community and our planet. Here’s the good news, small steps with purchasing, preserving and discarding our food can have a meaningful impact on our planet. Just ask our neighbors: New Canaan, Ridgefield, Greenwich, Norwalk, Newtown, Redding, New Fairfield, Bridgewater, Darien and Stamford all have municipal, drop-off food scraps programs in place. And they are working. Darien, for example, diverted 120 tons of food waste since 2018. This year alone, the town averages one ton of food scraps per week.
The beauty of a food scraps program is that our local efforts reach far beyond our community. The entire life cycle of our food will make you think twice before tossing leftovers and expired food in the garbage. The practicalities of feeding the earth versus the incinerator are endless.
Big Picture: According to the EPA, food waste is the single biggest and most common material burdening our landfills and incinerators. Stopping food waste at home saves significant resources at the front end of growing, processing, packaging, transporting and storing food. How? Annually, U.S. food waste utilizes 5.9 trillion gallons of blue water (water usage for 50 million homes) and the carbon dioxide emissions of 42 coal-fired power plants. Uneaten food also contains enough calories to feed more than 150 million people, far more than the food scarcity estimates of 35 million Americans.
Locally: Food waste is a burden on our town with more costs to haul heavier trash and extra resources (including more water) to break it down. Our wallets feel the pinch too — the average family loses $1,600 a year on uneaten food. Diverting food through composting or a food scraps program can also nourish our planet. Energy is no longer required to burn our food and harmful methane is reduced in our landfills. Instead, food nutrients are returned back to the soil contributing to clean land, water and air. Practically speaking, what’s not to love about fewer bags of trash and less smell in our kitchens from rotting food?
The effort is so little yet the reward of giving our food back to the earth is so great! How can each of us live green with less food waste? Write to Wilton’s Board of Selectmen to let them know your interest in a food scraps program for Wilton similar to neighboring towns. For a fee, Curbside Compost services Wilton for weekly food scraps pick up at your home. Educate yourself with tips from Wilton Go Green on ways to make small changes every day on how your food is purchased, stored and discarded. Be inquisitive — ask your favorite food establishments how they support sustainable green living. Share with your family and friends what green practices make you most proud.
Together, the mindset we embrace and the small changes we make can have an outsized impact on the health and well-being of our families, our community and our planet. Join me in advocating for our planet — every part of this living being deserves our green action.