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The City of Portland, Oregon

Planning and Sustainability

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1900 SW 4th Ave, Suite 7100, Portland, OR 97201

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Wasted Away in Climateville


Is the sporadic sweep of your refrigerator more like cleaning up after a wayward science project? It’s a cliché story: leftovers stored in old yogurt containers creep to the back of the shelf, escaping the hungry browser’s gaze for weeks (or even months). Food waste happens. But, it probably happens more than you think.

According to the USDA, we throw away more than 25 percent of the food we prepare, which amounts to about 96 billion pounds of food waste each year. In 2008, food scraps accounted for over twelve percent of total municipal solid waste in the U.S. (the third largest waste culprit behind paper and yard scraps). Most scraps go to landfills which lack oxygen needed for decomposition. Instead these once edible materials become one of the largest emitters of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s twenty-one times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Speaking of carbon dioxide, as we’ve said before, the food industry is responsible for up to a third of greenhouse gas emissions. Of that third, local numbers expert, Kumar Venkat of Clean Metrics, says about 14 percent is due to food waste. In his blog, Venkat reasons, “the nice thing about reducing waste is that the savings are not just one-time – the emissions reduction continues year after year as long as we keep a lid on the waste.”

Unlike buying local or organic food, which is sometimes out of our control, home food waste is in our hands, literally. There are many things you can do to save your scraps from piling up in our landfill:


  • Compost- create a habitat for decomposers, save money on soil amendments and reduce waste, does it get any better than that?
  • Plan out your meals and eat left-overs for lunch.
  • Organize your fridge: old stuff in the front, new to back.
  • Freeze food that you may not be able to eat. Most foods, vegetables included, can easily be popped into the fridge and thawed when you’re actually ready for them.