What happens to food scraps when you throw them away

You throw away food scraps like egg shells and tea bags daily, but have you ever wondered what happens to them after they are picked up by the garbage collectors?

Food scraps are very recyclable. This is because they are 100% biodegradeable, meaning they can be broken down by nature (bacteria and fungi). Nevertheless, not all food scraps end up being recycled. Still the greatest piece of the pie ends up in landfills and you would think that because it’s biodegradeable that it does not matter. But that’s not the case because they release methane gas.

When handled properly it only releases Co2 instead of methane which is less harmful. But also they recycle food in a way that produces energy or they use it to make compost which can be used in order to grow new plants releasing more oxygen in the air.

Did you know that nearly half of all fruits and vegetables produced are wasted each year? In this article you will learn exactly how food waste is recycled and what the global facts numbers are on food waste.

How food waste is recycled

As mentioned food when thrown on a landfill is not good for the environment. The best thing to do with food is eat it whenever possible. Ofcourse you won’t be eating banana peels and egg shells since they aren’t very tasty so these should be thrown away. Seperated ofcourse!

The food will be recycled using one of two ways.

  1. In-vessel composting: Here food waste plus garden waste is shredded and thrown into a container for 2 to 4 weeks while heating it to around 70 degrees to prevent bad microbes from joining in and to speed up the proces. It is then left for a 1 to 3 months before going on to be soil conditioner.
  2. Anaerobic Digestion: Here micro organisms called methanogens are being added to the waste to break down the waste and animal manure inside an enclosed tank with no oxygen. As it breaks down it gives off bio-gas which is collected and used to create heat and biofuels. It also creates bio fertilizer that can be used in farming and land regeneration.

Food waste in numbers and facts

  • One third of produced food is for human consumption.
  • We waste 1.3 billion tons of food every year globally.
  • Fruits and vegetables have the highest waste rates of all food.
  • Per capita (person) waste by consumers is around 105 kg in Europe and North America. In countries like Africa and Asia (South) each throw away 8 kg per year.
  • Large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.
  • Food waste occurs mainly at the early stages of the food value chain in developing countries. This is because they lack the technologies to handle the food properly.

Environmental impact of food waste

Global food loss and waste generate about 8% of total emissions. This is greater than the airline industry. The environmental consequences of producing food are massive. The world produces enough food to food everyone but still the amount of people not eating enough is staggering. What is going on here?

The biggest issue is that around 40% of waste happens in people’s homes where people buy ingredients they aren’t able to cook. I for sure can say I had this problem where I buy vegetables that I want to eat but can’t find the time to cook it (in time that is).

Food gets lost in the fridge or is imporoperly stored. Another big problem is misunderstanding date labels where people throw away food prematurely. The date label gives information to a date is atleast edible. This does not mean that when the date is expired it is unedible. So use your own judgement for this. Smell and inspect the food before eating it. You will get a general understanding of how certain food is supposed to smell and look.

Tips to minimize food waste

These mistakes are not that hard to fix. Here are some tips to prevent food waste:

  • Make a shopping list and consider that fruits and vegetables perish fast so don’t get to much of these.
  • Shop for fruits and vegetables twice per week instead of once per week.
  • Shop for locally produced vegetables and fruits when you can. They are usually more fresh and won’t go bad as fast.
  • Organise the fridge and refrigerator so you can keep track of what’s inside. You could introduce a system where the oldest items go on top of the shelf.
  • Cook what needs to be cooked instead of what you are in the mood for. Open the fridge and see what kind of foods are nearing their expiration date and cook those.
  • Use clever ways to reuse fruits and vegetables that are nearing it’s end by throwing them into soups and shakes.
  • You can use a home composter.

Now ofcourse this sounds like a lot of work but there is an extra advantange of not wasting many food. It saves you money, on average 100 euro’s / 100 dollars per year!



Greennova is created out of a passion for sustainability. The vision is to create a sustainable world for humans and our role is to provide a platform where people can learn about how to become part of the solution.

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