According to the Department of Agriculture (USDA), food waste is estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates nearly 219 pounds of food is wasted per person in this country every year.

Photo of food composting in the dirt

Why does this matter? Food waste is costly. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, food waste costs Americans $165 billion each year. That works out to approximately $529 per person. Food waste also harms the environment. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reports that food waste, if ranked among countries, would place third in total greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the United States. Lastly, food waste is a social problem. The USDA reports that more than 10 percent of U.S. households were food insecure in 2020.

Composting Food Scraps

To help reduce food waste countywide, Baltimore County residents may now compost some food scraps with yard materials in a regular compost pile. Composting the right food scraps not only helps create high-nutrient soil for your plants and garden, it also keeps those food scraps out of the trash and the County’s landfill.

As they decompose, composted food scraps and yard materials transform into a dark organic matter called humus. When you mix this rich, nutrient-dense material with the soil in your plants and gardens, it returns nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and trace minerals that help plants grow healthy and strong. Composting is the fifth tier of EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy. Using compost also helps increase water retention in sandy soils and aids drainage in heavy and clay soils.

Photo of a food recovery hierarchy pyramid

The EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
prioritizes actions organizations can
take to prevent and divert wasted food.

Do’s and Don’ts

Permitted food scraps include eggshells, loose tea and coffee grounds and most grains, nuts, legumes and fruit and vegetable scraps.

Do not include dairy products, garlic, rice, onions, citrus peels, walnuts, animal fats and bones, meat, poultry, fish, grease, cooking oil, tea and coffee bags and bakery and bread products in your compost.

These prohibited items attract rodents and/or are not good for the composting process because they break down too slowly. For detailed information, see the County’s backyard composting guide.

Compost Bin and Rain Barrel Sale

Composting and rainwater reuse are simple ways you can live more sustainably. Baltimore County is making those things a little easier to do by hosting an online compost bin and rain barrel sale.

This sale runs through Thursday, March 31, and is limited to residents of Baltimore County and City only. Compost bins are $55 and rain barrels are $65. Tax is included, and there is a $25 flat delivery rate. Orders will be delivered to each resident’s driveway or front door between March 15 and April 30, 2022. Delivery agents will follow social distancing protocols.

Bin Alternatives

Two additional options for dealing with food scraps at home are vermicomposting and soil incorporation.

Composting with worms, called vermicomposting, is another beneficial way to compost food scraps at home, help the environment and create a valuable byproduct for use in gardens and houseplants.

Soil incorporation, the process of burying food scraps, is a simple way to compost small amounts of food "waste" at home.

Other Ways to Waste Less Food

There are a number of methods you can use to buy, use and waste less food.

  • Plan your meals in advance and shop smart.
  • Treat “sell by,” “best by,” and “use by” dates as guidelines only. The FDA has taken action in recent years to clarify guidance surrounding food "expiration" dates. Remember, food date labels serve the retailer, not the consumer.
  • Regularly take inventory and note approaching expiration dates; plan meals using those items.
  • Buy misshapen or “ugly” produce.
  • Don’t overserve at home, serve food on smaller plates, and eat your leftovers.
  • Store food in the right places (pantry, refrigerator) and containers (freezer bags, airtight containers).
  • Avoid kitchen clutter and keep food neat and visible; keep foods “first-in, first-out.”
  • Keep a food waste diary of the kinds of food you throw away, and why.
  • Use it up–cook with food scraps, such as meat trimmings and produce skins, peels, stems, and stalks.
  • Use soft produce in smoothies, soups and juices.