Lattes & Landfills: Learning about food waste at the South Wake Landfill

On April 5, 2019, Capital Area Food Network headed to Wake County's Apex landfill to explore an aspect of our lives that's usually out of sight, out of mind once it's thrown out - but that has very real effects.

Despite the rain, we met at the landfill field office to enjoy our coffee and some delicious baked goods before hearing from Bianca Howard, Solid Waste Outreach Manager and member of our Food Recovery Circle, about Wake County’s compost program. Sara Davarbaksh, Wake County’s Environmental Program Coordinator, led us through the landfill's recycling drop-off facilities (open six days a week) where residents can bring anything from batteries to oyster shells.

Sara shared the story of the landfill with us, from its development and opening in 2008 to its present functioning and challenges as Wake continues to grow. Designed to last for 25 years, the landfill is quickly filling up as more and more people are throwing out more and more trash. While a Waste Characterization Study to begin later this spring will work to identify the makeup of the landfill and uncover potential solutions to prolonging the life of the landfill, we will still need to divert as much waste as possible.

We learned about the impact of our leftovers, scraps and tossed food items on the operations and longevity of the landfill. Besides producing greenhouse gases that must be captured and burned off, food waste takes up a large amount of space that could be saved. A 2011 study of the site found that organics accounted for 37.5% of the landfill. This number may increase following the results of the study this year. On a statewide level, this becomes even more significant - in 2012, North Carolinians generated 247 pounds of food waste per person.

Our landfill receives close to 15,000 tons of trash per day. To put food waste diversion efforts into perspective, in 2017 Wake County Solid Waste collected 22 tons of food waste through its compost program. That’s equivalent to just one tractor trailer - for an entire year. While these figures are sobering, they also present an opportunity for local governments and for organizations like ours to help raise awareness and educate our communities about the very real consequences of food waste.
It’s not all bad news, though! There is tremendous potential to increase our waste diversion efforts: in 2015, NC's recovered food waste saved approximately 147 cubic yards of landfill space, or the equivalent of a 70-foot-tall football field. There’s a lot at stake, and a lot we can do with wasted food.

So much of our food system is hidden from view, yet affects us all - and will dictate the type of future we’ll have to look forward to. CAFN’s Food Recovery Circle works to convene composting and food donation experts, gather information and raise awareness as well as look into new ways to close the loop on wasted food. If you’re interested in joining that Circle, or CAFN in general, reach out!

Many thanks to our talented and hardworking planning team for brainstorming, organizing and pulling off this event!

If you missed our group’s tour on food waste, you can always catch the free general public tours that Wake County Solid Waste offers.

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