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close-up of a landfill

Edible Garbage

Last month I shared Six Tips for Reducing Food Waste. I would like to continue on the theme of reducing food waste by talking more specifically about ways to use food scraps effectively to prevent them from ending up in the landfill.

As I was thinking about this topic, I was reminded of a funny scene from the 1982 film Night Shift, where Michael Keaton’s character, Billy Blaze, says into his tape recorder, “Idea to eliminate garbage: edible paper. You see, you eat it, it’s gone. Eat it, it’s out of there. No garbage.” Think about how much less waste would go into our landfills if we could just eat paper!

It is the same concept for food waste. As much as 40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the United States will never be eaten, destined to end up in the landfill. That is literally thousands of tons of food wasted each year. But what if we could help reduce that amount?

Here are two great ideas for using leftover food scraps instead of throwing them away.

cutting board and vegetables

Got leftover veggie scraps? Instead of throwing them away, save them for a delicious veggie soup.
(Photo source: UF/IFAS)

Cook with them. Leftover vegetables are great ingredients for a simple and delicious soup. Simply take the leftovers, combine them with an aromatic base of onions, garlic, and celery, add a liquid such as stock or broth (or water and white wine), throw in a generous helping of herbs, and cook for about 25-30 minutes. Then use an immersion blender or food processor (or stand-up blender) to blend into a creamy soup. Any type of vegetable works for this type of soup, from greens and cauliflower to parsnips and sweet potatoes, which makes it an ideal way to use up those scraps.

Another great way to use vegetable scraps is to make homemade stock. Vegetable parts such as carrot ends and peels, celery ends and greens, corn cobs, pea pods, and all the other bits trimmed off during food preparation can be used to make stock. Not in the mood to make stock right away? No problem! Veggie scraps can be saved in a zippered bag and kept frozen for up to six months.

When the time comes, simply dump the scraps into a large stock pot (that is why it is called a stock pot!) or Dutch oven, fill the pot 3/4 of the way with water, bring to a boil and simmer for at least 30 minutes. (The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor.) Strain it all through a sieve. The remaining liquid is the stock. Fresh stock can be stored 3-5 days in the refrigerator or frozen up to three months. Here is a simple resource from Cornell University Extension on how to make vegetable stock from kitchen scraps. (Here is another one from Tasty.co.)

Hold on! There are still scraps left over. What about those? Well, that brings me to the second great way to use kitchen scraps.

 

Food waste such as vegetable scraps can be added to compost to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer for home gardens. (Photo source: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

Compost them. Creating compost at home takes a little work and perseverance, but it can certainly pay off in the home garden. Nutrient-rich compost can add oomph to flower beds and vegetable patches and turn any garden into a showcase.

Vegetable scraps are perfect additions to any compost pile. Any vegetable scraps can be added to compost. Just remember to remove the little stickers, as those are not compostable.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are many benefits to compost. It enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests. It reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. And it encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material. These fact sheets (this one and this one) from UF/IFAS Extension are a wealth of information about home composting.

Reducing food waste begins with us, the consumers. By learning how to use those scraps in useful ways, such as cooking and composting, we can help eliminate the excess food waste filling our landfills.

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.