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One’s Trash is Another’s Treasure

No one likes to take out the garbage. No one likes to think about the trash. We just want it gone. Out of sight, out of mind. We’ve all been there, even at that restaurant where you’re given the privilege to dump your own plate.

The large coke that you better refill to get your money’s worth and your leftovers from the mountain of food you made at the buffet--into the garbage bin. Making a massive mess for whoever gets to take the trash out later. Maybe you feel a twinge of guilt, but it’s fleeting.

Out of sight, out of mind.

“Everyone wastes food. It’s hard not to.”

“What do you expect me to do with the scraps?”

“I don’t have a pet to feed this to”

“What even is composting? Are there rules?”

Maybe these are some of the things you’ve said or thought during a conversation about food waste. I know I have. I’ve always been disappointed in how wasteful Americans are and quite confused about helping solve the issue. Before I moved to Carteret County, I lived as an ex-pat in Spain. The recycling system in my small city was excellent. It always made me wonder why Americans can’t up their recycling game. Within a 3 mile radius at any point in the city, recycling receptacles are offered for almost anything--metal, plastic, paper, clothes, and their most recent addition, organic material, a.k.a food waste. I was so excited to start recycling my food scraps when this addition was made. The only “extra” thing I had to do was buy compostable or biodegradable trash bags. There was an organic waste bin right below my apartment, so recycling our food scraps became a comfortable routine for my roommate and me to adopt. We felt much better about our garbage, and I was extremely surprised by the amount of food waste we were actually accumulating.

Unfortunately, Carteret County does not offer food waste or compost type recycling (Please, correct me if I’m wrong). I called a couple of our waste management offices, and they didn’t have any answers. One person said, “that’s something you have to do on your own.” Of course, you can compost on your own if you have the use for it, but not everyone does. I believe that Winterville is the closest place that offers food waste recycling from my brief research.

Maybe right now, we can’t compost as a community. Still, we can individually make changes in our routine to reduce our food waste. Or at the least try to be more conscious about our grocery shopping and cooking practices. I do not consider myself a pro at all when eliminating food waste. I feel my composting methods are a work in progress, and I’m sure many people can relate to that.

It’s not easy to be sustainable or eco-conscious in a society that, for the most part, isn’t. Developed countries--like the U.S.--are creating immense amounts of food waste. The majority of it happens at the consumer stage in the supply chain. Research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has shown that wasting food has simply become a luxury many people can afford in high-income countries. This is where a large problem lies, but it’s not the only issue. We have new “fresher” options almost every day at the supermarket--and that’s what we want. We want the green bananas, not the ripened ones that will probably be trashed soon--making room on the shelves for the next shipment. I work at a grocery store, and I have personally thrown out perfectly edible food to make room for the new stuff. It’s not my decision to make; the decision belongs to the company. I know many other people who can relate to this as well.

Foodservice workers are told to throw out edible food all the time. Some grocery stores will literally reject food due to strict quality standards. They believe that less-than-perfect items--mainly produce--will not be purchased, so they’re sent back. If you experience wasting food on the job that you would like to share, feel free to do so in the comments! I’m a firm believer that awareness is the first step to any change.

Luckily, the Carteret Food and Health Council has a Food Waste and Recovery Program where food donations are delivered to food pantries in the county. This program is an excellent step in the right direction for our food waste issue. Most importantly, it helps hungry families in our community receive the food they deserve. I plan to share more information on the work that CFHC does for the county soon!

There’s always more to discuss when it comes to this topic, and I would love to keep the conversation going in my next post and in the comments section. If you have any advice on conscious kitchen habits that people can adopt at home, please share! I plan to share some of mine in my next post.

Courtney Gerenza went to East Carolina University where she studied English Literature and Sociology. Post-grad, she worked as an ESL teaching assistant in Alicante, Spain where she discovered her love for cooking and a community where eating locally produced goods is the norm. She grew up in both Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Charlotte, North Carolina, and relocated to Morehead City during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and after her time in Spain. Courtney is currently in between jobs but will begin working at Little Citizens Daycare within the next few weeks.

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