In Vermont, 26 percent of the trash that ends up in landfills is food waste, according to Chittenden County Solid Waste District. Milton resident and dietician Brigitte Harton is doing her part to stop that.
At the South Burlington Hannaford on March 25, Harton will teach a free “Makeover Your Leftovers” class that focuses on saving money and eliminating food waste.
Harton was first exposed to food waste through her continuing education classes that she takes as a dietician and wanted to shine a light on the issue.
“It’s become a very important topic. We are, as a nation, wasting a huge amount of food,” she said. “It’s not sustainable to keep doing that.”
The class takes a closer look at food waste in the country, she said, as well as how certain food groups are susceptible to being thrown away; tips and recipes for using leftovers and meal plans that create smarter shopping habits.
Harton said today, people are more likely to hear about food waste, but knowing it is a problem hasn’t translated into changing their habits in the kitchen and grocery store.
“I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” she said.
In January, CSWD kicked off its “Save the Food” challenge and is partnering with Harton for the initiative.
The challenge is to eat all the food in your fridge before it goes bad, to only go to the grocery store with a pre-made shopping list or to begin composting. Participants pick one of the options and do it for six weeks.
Harton will provide tips and tricks via email for using up leftovers and clearing out the fridge.
Jonny Finity, marketing and communications manager at CSWD, said Harton was a natural fit. He described the challenge as a “pilot program” and said the bar has been set low. The idea is to get people thinking more about food waste and to start conversations, he said.
One of the biggest obstacles to eliminating food waste is changing people’s habits and expectations, Finity said.
“We live in a throw-away culture,” he said. “Even the disposal industry is designed around two bins: a recycling bin and a trash bin.”
In 2020, food scraps will be banned from the trash in Vermont. Finity said people should experiment with what works for them and what doesn’t ¬– and that’s what the pilot program is all about.
“I’d love to see people trying some of these strategies,” he said. “What works for them on a personal level.”
Finity said food scraps, particularly smelly ones, are the main reason people empty their trash, resulting not just in food in the landfill, but more gas being burned and more wear and tear on the roads.
By composting, consumers don’t simply save energy and keep food waste out of the landfill: “You’re actually using the resources that are trapped in your food, rather than just burying them in a hole in the ground,” Finity said.
CSWD began accepting food scraps in 2001 and collected 42 tons in its first year. In 2016, Finity said CWSD collected 743 tons, a 1,600 percent increase and a testament to people’s ability to get on board with the process.
The “Save the Food” challenge ends with a survey offering participants a chance to record their struggles and their successes, helping to inform future challenges and campaigns.
“If we can get people to take at least a first step,” he said. “For now, I would consider that a success.”