How To Reduce, Recycle, and Compost Holiday Kitchen Wastes, 2019-Style
The kitchen is a major source of household refuse year-round, but during the winter holidays, kitchens compete for the dubious title of first place when it comes to generating trash.
“Food waste can be as much as 20 percent of our average waste stream,” says Carl P. Fortuna, Jr., Old Saybrook’s first selectman and a board member for the state’s Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (www.ctmira.org). “But the time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day drives that number higher.”
How much higher? The National Environmental Education Foundation reports that trash delivered to transfer stations increases 25 percent nationally during the fall/winter holidays (www.neefusa.org/holiday-waste).
In addition to food waste around the holidays, gift boxes, paper plates, tablecloths, napkins, gift wrap, ribbons, packaging, and discarded trees are all part of the problem.
Fortuna has been vocal for the past several years about the impact of upcoming changes in the state’s recycling resources that will affect his town and many others.
“With the price of waste disposal set to double over the next few years due to the retirement of our Hartford regional waste facility, it is imperative that we reduce the amount of food waste that reaches the municipal transfer stations,” he says.
Fortuna adds that two obvious ways for households to reduce food waste are to be more precise in purchasing, and to compost. Fortuna also reminds us that we can all become better recyclers.
Here are some resources that can help with all of that.
Two Websites About Better Recycling
1. At the CT Recycles website and phone app, you’ll be able to enter the name of products or materials to learn if they can be recycled (www.recyclect.com).
2. At the Plastic Film recycling website, you’ll learn where to recycle a wide variety of plastic bags and packaging (www.plasticfilmrecycling.org). The breadth of products and drop-off locations may surprise you.
Three Ways to Reduce Waste in the Holiday Kitchen
1. Buy the right amount of food and drink for parties. To determine the right amounts, use the online tools at www.SavetheFood.com, a website dedicated to food waste reduction by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Also, visit Whole Foods’ holiday party calculator, www.wholefoodsmarket.com/holidays/servings-calculator.
2. Use the “roots to stems” concept, a food idea that gained traction in 2018. The Whole Foods website listed it as a top trend that year, and explains, “Root-to-stem cooking makes use of the entire fruit or vegetable, including the stems or leaves that are less commonly eaten.” They list pickled watermelon rinds, beet-green pesto, and broccoli-stem slaw among the products inspired by this idea.
3. Remember what your grandma said: use the leftovers. If you overbought for your cheese platter, make a cheeseboard macaroni and cheese. With store-bought pastry, you can whip up a turkey and ham pie. Or how about a roast potato, turkey, sausage, and stuffing pie? Turkey also goes well in a Louisville Hot Brown Sandwich. And you can put just about any leftover in a savory crepe or omelette. Find those recipes here: www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/christmas-leftovers, and more here: www.saveur.com/best-christmas-leftovers-recipes.
Five Ways to Learn About Composting
1. UConn Home and Garden Education Center offers a Master Composter course every fall. See ladybug.uconn.edu/WhoCompost.php. UConn also offers fact sheets on soil and composting: www.ladybug.uconn.edu/FactSheets/index.php.
2. For a good introduction to composting, see the beginner’s classic, Let it Rot!: The Gardener’s Guide to Composting, 3rd edition, by Stu Campbell. Storey Publishing, 1998.
3. For a comprehensive review of all compost systems, see The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah Martin. Storey Publishing, 2008.
4. The EPA offers composting education at www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home.
5. Planet Natural Research Center offers a comprehensive compost forum: www.planetnatural.com/category/compost.
10 Holiday Categories for Composting
Many holiday-related items break down nicely. Some items are familiar, while others are surprising.
1. Veggie scraps, uncooked or cooked, are great compost as long as they are without oil or salt. Moldy or freezer-burned veggies are okay, too.
2. Fruit scraps and rinds, uncooked or cooked, are fine even if they have some sugar, honey, or molasses on them. Moldy or freezer-burned fruits are okay, too.
3. Coffee grounds and tea bags, as well as the filters, bags, strings, and tags are good additions.
4. Olive and avocado pits, and other large seeds
5. Expired herbs, spices, tea bags, and tea leaves
6. Eggshells, preferably crushed
7. Shells of nuts and peanuts, salt-free
8. Dry popcorn, such as popcorn chains or unpopped popcorn at the bottom of the popcorn maker
9. Leftover gelatin dishes, or gelatin packets past expiration (sugar is not a problem).
10. Used potpourri and mulling spices
10 Paper, Fiber, Plant Materials for Composting:
1. Paper napkins and paper towels are compostable if free of glossy paper, or residue of dairy, meat, poultry, or fish. Traces of oil or liquids are okay. Color is okay.
2. Plain brown gift boxes and plain newsprint compost well, especially torn or shredded.
3. Plain gift tissue, without plastic or metallic sparkles. (Colors are okay.)
4. Plain paper gift wrap or ribbon, without glossy, waxy, plastic, or metallic surfaces.
5. Plain egg cartons (no glossy paper or plastics)
6. Cardboard rolls inside paper towels and gift wrap. (Toilet paper rolls, too.)
7. Plain envelopes from holiday cards (not metallic or coated).
8. Leaves and needles from Christmas trees and wreaths, dead poinsettias and bouquets
9. Fireplace ashes and matches
10. Cotton “snow” decorations without plastics or metallic sparkles. (All-wool and all-cotton clothing are compostable, too.)
And, one more thought, sometimes composting can seem overwhelming or unwieldy, particularly for those who might live in small homes, apartments, or condos. But starting small is an option. There is a compost method to fit almost every household. The inexpensive Compost Sak is a new idea from the makers of fabric Smart Pots (www.smartpots.com). Lightweight and easy to move or store, the Compost Sak is aerated from top to bottom by pores in the fabric. No turning required!
For my part, I think of composting, reducing, and recycling as a gift to my friends, family, and especially to future generations. I wish all the people who read this column a happy, earth-friendly holiday season.
Kathy Connolly is a writer and speaker from Old Saybrook who specializes in earth-friendly landscape design, land care, and horticulture. Reach her through her website at www.SpeakingofLandscapes.com