You're standing in your kitchen and you casually toss a banana peel into the trash. You envision that banana peel headed to a wide open landfill where it will slowly decompose into dirt and return to the earth. It doesn't matter that it's not composted...right?
That's where you're wrong.
Landfills don't allow enough oxygen for composting to take place.
Food needs an aerobic environment (i.e. lots of oxygen) to start decomposing. Landfills differ dramatically from compost piles in that they are compacted using industrial machinery to maximize the use of space. Bulldozers crush the waste down and line the basin with plastic to avoid any toxic runoff, further limiting the oxygen available.
Organic waste that is sent to the landfill doesn’t have enough oxygen to break down then. When it attempts to break down with limited amounts of oxygen, it produces an off gas called methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Many landfills have experienced explosions due to the methane igniting and have had to install burners to slowly burn off the methane as it is released.
Food waste basically becomes fossils!
Archaeologists have actually done digs in landfills tunneling down several hundred feet to find recognizable banana peels and avocado pits. They’re able to timestamp these foods based on the newspaper dates that are at the same depth of the landfill. These recognizable organic waste pieces have been documented to be over 50 years old! You can read more about this in the book Garbology by Edward Humes.
Banana peels should break down in a matter of weeks if placed in a compost pile by contrast.
So yes, throwing your banana peel into the trash does make a difference. And not a good one.
Start composting your food waste!
Only 6.3% of the food wasted in U.S. homes is composted. If you haven't already started composting, it a good place to start! Composting allows the organic material sufficient access to oxygen to properly break down into soil.
Composting programs exist in many cities that offer curbside pickup, like Seattle and Portland. You can also start your own backyard compost bin or use a worm bin inside your apartment. Composting will cut down on your landfill bound waste and lower the release of methane gas into the atmosphere.
Reduce your food waste!
It's even more important to look at the food you are wasting in the first place. One third of the food produced worldwide is wasted before it is consumed - and your house is a part of that! Brainstorm ways to reduce wasted food by storing food properly, using up odd ingredients in recipes, and understanding what expiration dates mean.
That banana peel you were going to toss in the trash? Make a banana peel cake instead! That lemon rind? Use the whole lemon in your lemon bars!