Scraps to Soil: Combating food waste in Lansing

Our Table panelist Natalie Molnar shares how the Scraps to Soil Pilot Program helps reduce food waste in the Lansing area.

A passion for gardening drew Natalie Molnar to a career in food, sustainability and the environment. Each day on the job, she helps to create a more sustainable Lansing as the program coordinator for Live Green Lansing’s Scraps to Soil Pilot Program.

Molnar was a panelist at Food@MSU’s March 21 Our Table panel discussion on food waste. Her role with Scraps to Soil and Live Green Lansing is part of her position as an energy analyst with the Lansing Board of Water & Light.

Scraps to Soil collects food scraps from Lansing area restaurants, coffee shops and food processors and brings them to local landscape supplier Hammond Farms, where they are processed into garden compost. Funded through a grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the program began in fall 2016.

“[Scraps to Soil] was part of Governor Snyder’s waste reduction effort,” said Molnar. “He did some that were geared more toward recycling and then this one came out that was just for food waste.”

The goal of Scraps to Soil is to divert food scraps from landfills and return them to the environment.

Keeping food out of landfills can help keep the air clean and reduce the impacts of climate change. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food waste is the single largest component of landfills in America. Food waste generates methane, a gas that contributes to climate change and global warming, making landfills the third-largest source of methane in the country.

“I think just making people aware that this is even something they should be thinking about is big,” said Molnar.

Molnar said most of the approximately 25 businesses Scraps to Soil serves didn’t know how much food they were actually wasting and didn’t consider composting prior to their involvement in the program.

“A couple of the coffee shops were already composting, or someone would come and pick up their coffee grounds,” she said. “One restaurant has buffet on the weekends, and their staff were really unhappy with having to throw away food at the end of the shift. They were really happy about signing up for the program, and so, felt a lot better putting it into the compost bin.”

Keeping food waste out of landfills and instead using it as valuable material for soil can help to grow and sustain Lansing’s urban farming community, given that some of the existing soil in the area has been degraded by industry and development, said Molnar.

Molnar believes programs like Scraps to Soil can be implemented elsewhere, as long as there’s a willing business partner.

“Someone on the scale of a Hammond Farms with the equipment to process the material is really critical, but with that, I think it’s definitely doable,” she said.

To reduce food waste, Molnar advises businesses to align what they’re buying with what they’re using – and notes that implementing composting to get rid of waste that does occur isn’t as difficult as it initially seems.

“I would let people know that it’s easier than they think,” she said. “A lot of places were hesitant to try composting because they thought it would be smelly and complicated. Once you get your staff used to it, then that’s just the process. It’s not really any more complicated.”

Our Table is a series of public roundtable discussions in which Michigan State University brings together food experts, agricultural producers, health professionals and community members to listen to each other and foster dialogue. It is part of Food@MSU, a campus-wide initiative led by the colleges of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Arts and Letters, and Communication Arts and Sciences that aims to help consumers make more informed decisions about food, and its impacts on health and the planet.

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