In the 1960s, General Electric released an infomercial for an innovation set to transform the way Americans disposed of their waste. "Goodbye to Garbage" flashes up on screen, and we see an actress standing in a pristine kitchen attempting to wrap food waste in newspaper to take it to the trash.
In true infomercial style, crisis strikes when the paper breaks and the countertop is littered with food scraps. General Electric's answer is the Disposall, a bone-crunching garbage disposal that lets families literally flush food down the kitchen drain.
This infomercial was as much an advert for the Disposall as it was for the new, addicted-to-convenience culture sweeping the Western world. Flushing food down the drain may have been wasteful, but waste didn't matter like it does today.
In the U.S., we throw away more food than any other country in the world, amounting to approximately 103 million tons — or 30-40 percent of our food supply. The average family of four throws out $1,500 worth every year.
The vast bulk of our food waste goes to landfill, taking up more space there than anything else we throw out. In landfill it rots and releases methane, which is approximately 80 times more powerful at warming the planet than carbon dioxide. The carbon footprint of our food waste alone is greater than the entire airline industry.
Today, national action is on the horizon with the newly introduced Compost Act. The sweeping federal bill will classify composting as a conservation practice and provide both grants and loans to support industrial and small-scale composting.
It's a major step toward a greener nation, but to succeed it will not only need the support of our politicians and people; it will need a change in the way we package our food, too. By switching to compostable packaging, people are encouraged to separate their food waste. With compostable packaging, you don't have to get your hands dirty separating old food from its plastic packaging to ensure it goes in your food waste bin; you can simply dispose of the packaging alongside the food.
Innovations in compostable packaging are also constantly occurring. Two peer-reviewed studies found certified compostable packaging provided better protection for the freshness of both bell peppers and cucumbers.
We have a chance to be a global leader on using food waste as a resource, slashing emissions in the process. The Compost Act is our route to achieving this. It's now time the nation put its weight behind it.
Gary Robinson is director of public affairs at TIPA Ltd., a compostable packaging company.