Wisconsin Landfill Study Finds Lots of Wasted Food | Wisconsin News
By ELIZABETH DOHMS-HARTER, Wisconsin Public Radio News
MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – Organics, including food waste and garbage, make up about 30 percent of Wisconsin landfill waste by weight, according to a study of waste from 14 disposal sites that was commissioned by the state department of natural resources.
The 2020-2021 statewide waste characterization study found that the broad category of organics, which also includes yard waste and diapers, accounted for approximately 1.3 million tonnes. An estimated 924,900 tonnes of paper, including cardboard, compostable paper and office paper, accounted for about 21 percent of landfill tonnage. This was followed by plastic at around 17%, or 745,600 tonnes.
The study, for which samples were taken in fall 2020 and spring 2021 by environmental consulting and subcontracting company SCS Engineers, was carried out by filtering 200 pounds of waste collected from 14 landfills and one solid waste transfer station.
Casey Lamensky, solid waste coordinator for the DNR, said the 14 sites account for 72 percent of the state’s municipal and general solid waste. Teams collected 398 200-pound samples from these locations.
âThen those samples were hand-sorted into 85 different waste categories to give us a total percentage that each of those categories represents in our landfills in 2020,â she said.
This is the third study of its kind, and the first since 2009, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The study recognized several notable improvements since 2009, including a reduction in the number of roofing shingles reporting as solid waste. This is in part because of recycling efforts that use old shingles in road construction.
Another example is likely due to Wisconsin’s electronics recycling law that went into effect in 2010, according to the DNR. Compared to 2009 when the study was last conducted, the weight of televisions and monitors in landfill has fallen by 85% this time around.
Lamensky said organic material in landfills is compressed with other waste to open up space. But this compression expels oxygen, which helps break down food. Without oxygen, food is broken down by other microorganisms.
“And these microorganisms produce methane, a greenhouse gas 28 times more potent than CO2,” she said.
Making sure these items don’t end up in the landfill is the best way to avoid methane production. And one obvious way to do it, Lamensky said, is to waste less food.
A few simple steps to avoid wasting food could include planning your meals for the week before you go shopping and learning how to properly store that food when you bring it home.
Another option is to learn how to use the different areas of your refrigerator and its humidity controls to help extend the shelf life of the foods in it.
Lamensky is a big fan of the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Keeper app, which lets consumers know if food is still safe to eat.
“This is important because the ‘used before’ and ‘best before’ date labels on our foods are actually manufacturing dates that have been affixed to these products for quality reasons but not necessarily for safety. food, except infant formula, âshe said.
Recycling for a lot of people is complicated, and Lamensky said it’s probably because it’s not universal.
According to the study, 5.7% by weight of plastics in landfills were recyclable but instead went to the trash.
What should be recycled changes depending on which facility these items end up in, whether they have equipment to handle those materials, and who the buyers of those materials are.
âIt is really important to make sure that the person you are working with recycling provides clear communication about what they are taking specifically and that they are kept up to date,â she said.
Some Wisconsin items can still be recycled and include: office paper, newspaper and magazine paper, cardboard, aluminum containers, # 1 and 2 plastic containers, aluminum and bi-metal containers, a she declared.
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