A Mega List of Food Waste Recycling Options

food waste recycling

Food waste is a topic I’m super passionate about. Coming from a big Italian family, we were all taught to eat everything on our plates. We’d eat leftovers for lunch the next day, or my dad would take those leftovers and transform them into a completely new dish for dinner. Doing this really helped us save money, and reduced the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being put into the atmosphere. Still – despite all our best efforts, some food waste was inevitable: Food scraps like eggshells, tea bags, banana skins, and coffee grounds always found their way into the trash. But did they really have to? Quickly, I discovered there were tons of solutions to this extra food waste dilemma. That’s where food waste recycling comes in: There are so many ways to make sure your food scraps (the items you can’t ingest) don’t become part of the waste stream. In today’s post, I’m going to talk to you guys about food waste recycling programs, waste collection, composting, and so much more. There are so many creative ways to recycle food, no matter what city you live in, or how big a space you have. Here’s how to support food waste recycling.

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Food waste recycling: Why it matters

food waste recycling
Me and my compost pail – best buds!
First, lets talk about why diverting food scraps from the landfill is important.
For starters, as someone practicing zero waste, proper waste disposal and waste diversion are already important factors in my life. I try to limit the amount of disposable plastic and paper I encounter, so why not take it one step further and limit food waste too?

Food waste causes a lot of environmental problems. In case you didn’t know, when food goes to a landfill, it generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Yikes, huh?

Not to mention the amount of food we throw away is a huge waste of resources. Think about all the water, energy, packaging, transportation and storage used in food production. This all goes to waste when we throw away food.

Some of food waste consists of things like fruit and vegetable peelings, core and bones, but a majority of it is actually perfectly good food.

You see, Americans are funny – they see even a slight blemish on food, and they’ll toss the food out (I’m American, I can say this because I’ve seen it…though I’m sure it’s a problem in other countries too). Worse yet, supermarkets will dump perfectly good food if it doesn’t get sold by a specific date (so yeah, it’s not just the consumer’s fault).

Forty percent of food in America is wasted, and 90 percent of us throw away food too soon. Thanks to confusing sell-by, use-by, and best-by dates on food, we often throw away food before it’s actually spoiled.

Doing this just creates more and more waste, leading to worse and worse problems. When you throw away food, you throw away your money.

The average American family of 4 loses $1,500 a year on food waste. That’s insane to me. You could use that money for a trip, or add it straight to your college savings account.

But when you buy two cartons of organic strawberries for $8, just so they can rot in the back of your fridge, well, you waste $16. And that money adds up the more you waste.

Probably the most sadistic part about all this? We have enough food to feed everyone on the planet, and yet 821 million people globally go hungry and are undernourished.
Why? Because of food waste. Due to poor distribution, food getting lost in transit, and various other factors, good people go hungry.

I could go on and on about the various reasons food waste is bad. But I’ve already written an extensive amount about it in my ebook, How to Reduce Food Waste. Definitely read that if you want a more in-depth look into it.


How can you recycle food waste?

food waste recycling

Okay, so now that you know what a huge problem food waste is, you’re (hopefully) ready to jump on the band wagon and fix this mess.

Thankfully, there are several ways to recycle your organics.

In short, here are a few food waste recycling options:

  • Composting
  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Food donation programs
  • Food rescue programs
  • Animal feed

My personal favorite way is to compost your food scraps. Even if you live in a small space, you can do this. Here’s the ultimate guide to apartment composting I wrote not too long ago to help you out.

Lets take a look at each of these options independently.



food waste recycling

Composting is great because your food scraps truly get to become part of the earth again. Once they decompose into compost, you can use it in your garden or container garden to help your plants flourish.

For those who live in an apartment, like me, you have several options. You can choose to compost using a compost pail, vermicomposting, bokashi composting, or even a tumbler (if you have a balcony). 

I explain more about these options in my ultimate guide to composting in an apartment, if you’re curious.

If you decide to choose using a compost pail, you can load up your pail over the course of the week with food scraps, then take it to your local farmers market on the weekend. Farmers markets usually have food scrap collection bins on site. If yours doesn’t, try finding a local community garden that will happily take it off your hands.

Yet another option is utilizing Share Waste – you can find people with compost by you quite easily this way. You can register as a donor (you have kitchen scraps to give) or a host (you can recycle scraps).

If you have a backyard, you can also try backyard composting using tumblers or bins specifically designed for turning food scraps into fertile compost. You could also attempt making your own compost bin on the cheap.

Depending on where you live, you might even be eligible for curbside composting programs. Do a quick google search of “curbside composting” to learn more. Also, Compost Now is a great resource for finding compost pickup services already available to you in your area.


Anaerobic digestion

food waste recycling
Source: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/fabe-6611

This method is definitely more complicated, but still an interesting way of to recycle solid waste. 

Anaerobic digestion uses microorganisms to break down food waste, animal manure and energy crops in the absence of oxygen, inside an enclosed system.
As the organics breaks down it gives off methane, which is collected and converted into biogas and used to generate all kinds of things like heat, transport fuels, or electricity.

It even creates a nutrient-rich digestate. This can be used as a fertilizer for agriculture and in land regeneration (pretty innovative if you ask me).
It’s definitely not my preferred method of food waste recycling, simply because it does produce methane, but still. At least the methane is being put to good use and not going into the atmosphere.

For more information on anaerobic digestion, here’s a whole article about it written by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) themselves.


Food donation programs

food waste recycling
Source: https://www.feedingamerica.org/take-action/volunteer

Okay, so – food scrap recycling is definitely one part of eliminating food waste, but what about the food that’s still good enough to eat that gets wasted?
Well, that’s where food donation programs come in. Places like food pantries and food banks continuously make a difference in fighting food waste, and feeding those in need.

Here’s the difference between a food pantry and a food bank.

Food pantries are individual sites that distribute bags or boxes of food directly to those in need who reside in a specified area. They typically obtain their food from a food bank.

Food banks are community based, professional organizations that collect food from a variety of sources and save the food in warehouses. They distribute the food to hungry families and individuals through various emergency food assistance agencies, such as soup kitchens or pantries.

I suggest looking into the food pantries and banks in your area. Feeding America has a fantastic resource available that lets you find a local food bank near you. Just punch in your zip code or state and the closest ones will pop up.

Once you find a local food bank or pantry near you, learn exactly what their policies are regarding food donations. You don’t want to give something the food bank or pantry doesn’t need. Make sure to contact the management department at your local food bank for more information on what they’re accepting.

Generally speaking, canned food is almost always welcome. I recommend looking in your pantry and seeing what canned food has been sitting there you haven’t used yet. You can even host your own food drive, if you’re feeling extra motivated.


Food rescue programs

food waste recycling

Food rescue programs are probably the closest you’ll get to actual food waste programs. There honestly needs to be more of them.

Food rescue programs take excess perishable and prepared food and distribute it to agencies and charities that serve hungry people (ex: soup kitchens, pantries). Many of these agencies visit the food bank each week to select fresh produce and packaged products for their meal programs or food pantries.

What I love most about food rescue programs is that many also take direct donations from stores, restaurants, cafeterias, and individuals with surplus food to share.
Here are a few of my favorite food rescue services:

  • Food Rescue has connected over 200 caring agencies with 200 restaurants, and 700 schools resulting in over a million meals being rescued annually. Volunteers collect unused food from restaurants, grocers and schools to supply local food banks.

  • Sustainable America is an environmental non-profit organization with the mission to make the nation’s food and fuel systems more resilient. They have a food rescue locator, which is a directory of organizations across America that rescue, glean, transport, prepare and distribute food to the needy.

  • Ample Harvest is a unique resource that is eliminating food waste, the outcome being a reduction in hunger along with an improved environment. It’s accomplished by utilizing the internet to enable Americans who grow food in home or community gardens to easily donate their excess harvest to one of their local food pantries. 

I encourage you to not only donate to these food rescue programs, but to also volunteer with them! They’re always looking for more help, so if you have extra time, get involved.

Many schools have food rescue programs in place, especially colleges. Find out if yours does, or start one up yourself! If you’re a high school student, check out Food Rescue. If you’re a college student, the Food Recovery Network is the place to go. Both these organizations will help you setup a food rescue program in your school!

Animal feed

food waste recycling

Last, but not least, turning food scraps into animal feed is a great way to prevent waste.

Don’t like to use kale stems in your salads? Feed them to your bunny! Got a ton of eggshells you have no clue how to use? Grind them up and make a nutritious canine calcium supplement that’s also helpful with stomach issues.

If you have chickens, or know someone who does, they’ll be happy to eat your food scraps for you. Pigs will also eat your food scraps happily!

Don’t have any animals or livestock yourself? That’s perfectly fine: You can always just donate your food scraps to animals.

Just contact your local solid waste, county agricultural extension office or public health agency for information. Make sure to determine what types, how often, and the amount of food scraps you can provide.

It’s important to note regulations vary in each state. Some states completely ban food donation for animal feed. Other states simply require no meat, dairy or food high in salt (being these can harm animals). Look and see what your state laws are!

food waste recycling

What are your thoughts on these food waste recycling options? Did I miss anything?

For even more ways to recycle food waste, be sure to check out my ebook How to Reduce Food Waste. For just $15, you can become a food waste warrior and start saving more $$$ for you and your family ASAP.

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By Ariana Storniolo (Palmieri)

Ariana Storniolo is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste and sustainability. Her work has also been featured on Going Zero Waste, Green Matters, Mother Earth Living and several other online publications.


  1. When I was growing up, we composted a lot. But, there was not a lot of food waste in my home. For example, when we put up apples every year (applesauce, sliced apples in the freezer for pies, apple butter) we used just about everything! Mom used the peelings and cores of the apples to cook down for apple butter. It was slow going as she placed the peels and cores in a large roasting pan and cooked it down in the oven at a low temp. Once it was cooked down to her satisfaction, it was put through a food mill, seasoned and sweetened if necessary (not all apples need sweetening) and jarred/canned. What was left over were some pretty dessicated peels and a few seeds! Those went to compost.

    At Christmas time, we always had oranges and mom took the peels (no white pith) and either made candied peels by boiling the peels (cut into strips) in a sugar water. That took about 10 minutes. Then the sugared peels were tossed in granulated sugar and left to dry. They were so good. Then, the sugar water was bottled to use in a type of soft drink – to taste, add the orange sugar water to tonic water for a fizzy orangy soft drink.We kept that orange water in the fridge but it doesn't keep very long as there are no preservatives in it. I suppose lemon rinds would result in the same thing but I rarely have lemons fresh so have not tried that.

  2. Doing this really helped us save money, and reduced the amount of greenhouse gas emissions being put into the atmosphere. Still – despite all our best efforts, some food waste was inevitable: Food scraps like eggshells, tea bags, banana skins, and coffee grounds always found their way into the trash. kitchen trash bin

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