As we lead up to the 51st anniversary of Earth Day, we will be featuring eco-conscious movements happening right here in Kansas City. Our Sustainability Showcase will outline how local efforts are making a difference in our community’s footprint and how you can get involved.

To begin this series, we will begin with how detrimental food waste can be for the environment and food-insecure individuals.

Different colorful fruits and vegetables all over the table in full frame studio shot

If food waste was a country, it would be the 3rd largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions after China and the U.S.

Food is wasted at different stages of production, beginning with farms planting extra and creating a surplus. Having extra food could be a positive thing if so much of the food grown wasn’t thrown away for minor imperfections or left to rot because it cannot be harvested in time.

Thankfully, one local group devised a plan to decrease the waste and help Kansas City residents put forgotten food on their table.

After the Harvest (ATH) works with farms to gather produce left behind in the fields and places it on the tables of food-insecure families. Despite the pandemic, ATH was able to glean (pick leftover produce from the fields) 3.5 million pounds of food from the partnering farms and donate it to 380 food banks, pantries, shelters, and community kitchens in 2020 (ATH 2020 Annual Report). Without these gleaning efforts, edible crops would go to waste in a landfill, producing methane and increasing food insecurity within our community.

After the Harvest Footer Logo

After the Harvest always needs volunteers to help with their food rescue efforts, but if this isn’t an option for you, there are other ways to make a difference. Keeping your food scraps out of the trash also makes a huge dent in food sent to landfills. Composting is a practice of decomposing organic material to later be used as a soil enhancer. It returns nutrients back to the ground that were consumed during a plant’s life cycle, such as carbon and nitrogen, and improves soil quality. Soil particles clump together in ways that allow better water retention, less water run-off and erosion, and create a healthy growing medium for new plant life.

Household composting may seem like a daunting task. It takes a long time to get the desired results (i.e., fully decomposed food scraps), and space may be an issue for those of us without yards. Fortunately, two groups in Kansas City saw these issues and created a solution: you collect the scraps, and they do all the composting for you! KC Can Compost and Compost Collective KC offer compost collection from households within Kansas City. All food scraps are sent to Missouri Organic Recycling, an industrial composter, to break down the food and create natural compost. The completed product can be purchased for home gardens and landscape improvements on a larger scale.

All of these efforts are local and help Kansas City keep our residents healthy and connected to the community.

Check back next week for another Sustainability Showcase featuring recycling myths busted and successful glass recycling taking place in our city.

If you are interested in any of the companies or practices discussed above, you can reference the websites below for more information.

More information about food waste:

For volunteer opportunities and more information about After the Harvest:

How compost improves soil quality:

KC Can Compost:

Compost Collective KC:

To learn more about purchasing compost or how compost is made on the industrial level: