Food Waste Profile in Johnson County
With Food Waste Prevention Week from April 10-16, Stop Food Waste Day on April 26, and the Love Food, Fight Waste program hitting its one year anniversary, it is time to celebrate!
According to the 2022 Iowa Statewide Material Characterization Study conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, approximately 20.4% of what ends up in the Iowa City Landfill is food waste. In 2022, the Iowa City Landfill properly landfilled 130,109.46 tons of garbage from our service area – Johnson County, Kalona, and Riverside. Of that, about 26,542 tons was food waste.
While that is a lot of food waste, we are thrilled to report that our Johnson County community has successfully reduced landfilled food waste. The last waste characterization study was conducted in 2017 and found that food waste made up over 25% of materials entering the Iowa City Landfill. A 5% reduction might not seem like a lot, but in fact, that equates to over 6,000 tons of food! Way to go, Johnson County community!
Why do we want to reduce food waste and keep food out of the landfill?
When food is wasted, it wastes all the resources that went into growing, manufacturing, distributing, and transporting that food. At the landfill, once garbage is compacted into place by our trained Landfill Operators, there is no air (oxygen) or light in a landfill hole. This is the perfect environment for methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, to be produced in the absence of oxygen and in the presence of so many organic materials (food waste). One of the best things each of us can do to take climate action is to reduce food waste.
A great alternative for food waste disposal is composting. While we encourage good, edible food to be eaten as the first priority, we will always have the inevitable banana peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds that we want to responsibly dispose of. Composting is a great option for those items! For a deep dive into composting, check out this Love Food, Fight Waste article on composting.
Who is recovering food in Johnson County?
That 5% reduction in food waste over the past five years was aided in part by Table to Table’s (T2T) increase in food recovery. T2T saw up to a 60% increase in the amount of food rescued annually since the last waste audit.
Table to Table manages a complex food rescue network throughout Johnson County involving more than 100 food donors and 50 recipient organizations. Food donors include area stores, warehouses, processors, restaurants, farms, markets, and gardeners that donate their unsold or extra food to Table to Table. T2T volunteers deliver this food directly to organizations that are serving our neighbors in need so this food reaches people as quickly as possible. These organizations include food pantries, shelters, hot meal sites, and youth programs that connect rescued food to our neighbors. Ultimately, people rescue food by eating it: using it for its intended purpose!
In 2022, T2T recovered 2.2 million pounds of food, redirecting it throughout our community where it was needed and feeding more than 22,000 people. More than half of this food is produce, protein, and dairy. Remember that the top five most commonly wasted foods are apples (produce), potatoes (produce), cheese (dairy), milk (dairy), and bread. T2T is making a huge local impact in these most-wasted categories.
T2T rescued food provides about half the total food that the three largest local pantries distribute. Plus, recovered food helps provide more options, including vegan and gluten free foods and a variety of produce grown locally.
- Rescue food in our community! If you have a little extra room in your schedule on weekday or Saturday mornings, sign up to volunteer with Table to Table. Volunteer opportunities include recovering and delivering food on food rescue routes, prepping our food rescue vehicles, and harvesting veggies in farm fields this summer. Visit T2T’s volunteer page, email email@example.com, or call 319-337-3400 for more information.
- Educate yourself on local options to donate extra food and personal care items. Here are just a few wish lists from organizations serving our neighbors:
- Coralville Community Food Pantry
- North Liberty Community Pantry
- Food Pantry at Iowa
- Iowa City Free Lunch
- Shelter House Iowa City
- You may also bring items (dry goods, garden produce, pet food, and hygiene products) to Table to Table to deliver throughout the local hunger relief network.
- 2022 Iowa Statewide Material Characterization Study
Iowa Department of Natural Resources article: “A Land of Plenty Wasted – Food Waste in Iowa”
Iowa City Press Citizen article: “Johnson County residents get access to free, healthy food thanks to local nonprofits”
Why local food matters
Did that apple you’re eating come from five miles down the road, or is it more well-traveled than you are? Reduce your carbon footprint and benefit your health by choosing local food.
Monthly Topic Overview
Why does choosing local food matter?
“Choosing local whenever in season and when possible, as often as possible, strengthens a community-based food system,” says Michelle Kenyon, director of Field to Family, an Iowa City-based nonprofit that works to create a healthy and sustainable local food system. “Community food systems enhance the health of our economy, environment, and our population.”
Let’s go in-depth with benefits:
- Choosing local food reduces transportation-associated greenhouse gas emissions.
- Significant greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food logistics. Most conventional food travels over 1,000 miles to get to us, the consumers. (To put that into perspective, that’s like driving to Boston from Iowa City.) Almost one-fifth of carbon emissions in the food system are from burning fossil fuels to transport (and refrigerate) food via trucks, trains, boats, etc. With a greater distance to travel, there’s also a higher chance of food spoiling or being damaged on its journey, leading to more food waste.
- Choosing local food offers fresher, more nutritious options that benefit your health.
- Food sourced locally spends much less time in transit from the farm to your plate, which means it loses fewer nutrients before you eat it. Plus, it’s fresher and tastes better. Eating local encourages you to eat with the seasons, learning when certain types of produce are at their peak for quality and taste.
- Plus, many local farmers take environmental health into consideration when growing food, using sustainable practices to increase biodiversity and protect pollinators.
- “‘Know your farmer, know your food’ is absolutely true, as local farmers are transparent when it comes to their growing philosophies,” Kenyon says. “Those who implement growing practices that are committed to improving soil, water, and air health are upfront about it.”
- Choosing local food strengthens our food system.
- When you purchase local food, you’re supporting local farming, processing, and distribution jobs, keeping your dollars in our local economy. The more of our local dollars that go into local food, the more local food is grown in our region. Those dollars invest in the future of our food supply.
- In addition to food, agritourism supports our community’s economy. Participating in local activities like farm to table dinners, goat yoga, and apple picking ultimately support folks living and working in our communities.
How can I access local food in Johnson County?
Now that you understand the difference that eating local can make, let’s delve into how you can access local foods in Johnson County. Our community is host to a lot of quality local food options, including these listed:
- Farmers Markets offer seasonal local foods and goods sold by our neighbors. Markets typically run May-October. Check out this list of Johnson County Farmers Markets.
- If you’re looking to order local foods online, Field to Family offers an online farmers market beginning Earth Week, April 17.
- Many local farms offer community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares for purchase. Vegetable shares are seasonal and subscription-based. Find a local CSA with this guide to Iowa CSA farms.
- Want to grow your own produce? You can’t get more local than that!
- Try your hand at gardening in your backyard; or, if your space is limited, container gardens kept on patios, steps, or in windows are excellent for growing your own tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuces, strawberries, and herbs.
- Iowa City community garden plots are another great option for planting your own garden or gardening with friends.
- Plus: share your bounty and grow an extra row to donate to Table to Table! Drop your donations off at the Table to Table office in Pepperwood Plaza, 1049 US-6 E, Iowa City on weekdays or Saturday mornings.
- Shop local at the grocery store. Wherever you shop, check labels when you’re shopping to see where the food you’re planning to purchase came from.
- Free produce stands are hosted throughout the growing season at locations in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, stocked with fresh, local produce, free to all. Keep an eye on social media for Table to Table, CommUnity, Coralville Community Pantry, and North Liberty Community Pantry later this spring for details.
- Learn about how you can access local food in our area with Field to Family’s resources.
- Next time you go to the grocery store, pick out three produce items and check the labels. Where are the items from? Are they local or from a faraway place?
- Learn more about Field to Family’s “Farm to School” Month, educating the next generation about local agriculture (video).
- Watch “Dirty Food Chain: Why You Should Know Where Your Food Comes From” (video)
- Healthline lists seven great reasons to eat local foods.
- Check out Field to Family’s Local Food Explorer.
- Field to Family explains: “Where does your food come from?”
- Ecowatch lists 10 reasons to eat local.
- Emory University analyzes energy that goes into food production and distribution (2010).
- Nature discusses CO2 emissions from transporting food.
- Reference this Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Harvest Calendar to learn when your favorite produce is at its peak.
Table to Table delivery services affected by theft of catalytic converters
Iowa City, Iowa, March 20, 2023 – Table to Table (T2T), a volunteer-based Iowa City non-profit organization that recovers and delivers half the food distributed to people facing food insecurity in Johnson County has had services disrupted after theft of catalytic converters from their food rescue vehicles.
Upon arriving at T2T to launch food rescue routes this past Friday morning, T2T staff and volunteers discovered two vehicles were completely disabled, missing their catalytic converters. This pricey part has been the target of a nationwide rash of thefts. While this stolen part may get thieves only $50 to $300 at a scrapyard, this small nonprofit will have to pay $1,500 to $3,000 to repair and replace the parts, and then even more to protect these vehicles and the others from future catalytic converter theft.
With just a small fleet of refrigerated cargo vans, T2T volunteers collect and redistribute 45,000 pounds of food each week in Johnson County. This is a critical lifeline local neighbors need now more than ever due to drastic reductions in SNAP benefits enacted in April of 2022, and a dramatic increase in food prices that have led to a rapidly changing (increasing) food insecurity landscape in Johnson County. As resources at T2T’s local partner organizations including local food pantries and emergency meal sites are stretched thinner and thinner, every pound of food T2T can deliver is critical. Due to these thefts, T2T is currently operating without a quarter of their regular fleet, making it harder to capture all the food available as long as the vehicles are out of commission.
T2T needs community support to get the vehicles back on the road and bring operations back up to full capacity. Costs estimated for the affected vehicles exceed $5,000 and estimates to protect their remaining vehicles is not yet known. To donate, please visit table2table.org/donation
Table to Table is a Johnson County non-profit that bridges the gap between abundance and hunger. Table to Table volunteers keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from local food donor organizations and distributing it to local anti-hunger organizations. T2T has distributed well over 30 million pounds of food locally since its founding in 1996.
Now Enrolling AmeriCorps Local Food Recovery Specialist
AmeriCorps Local Food Recovery Specialist
The AmeriCorps Local Food Recovery Specialist will assist with the gleaning (harvesting) of excess produce from farms and gardens as well as getting the food to food-insecure individuals via free produce stands and other efforts with partner agencies. During harvest season, the Local Food Recovery Specialist will help lead gleans with volunteers to harvest local food and deliver it to local partner agencies in the Johnson County hunger relief network. The Local Food Recovery Specialist will also assist T2T’s program staff in actualizing produce free produce stands in partnership with T2T’s partner agencies. They will also assist with other local produce access initiatives, including recruiting and scheduling volunteers, motivating and building the local gardener-donor network, and support and participate in general food rescue program operations. T2T serves as the hub for 60% of the food distributed by Johnson County’s hunger relief network. The best candidate is an energetic team player with strong communication skills who enjoys interacting with people of diverse ages and backgrounds.
Read more about member benefits here.
Table to Table AmeriCorps Local Food Recovery Specialist 2023
Schedule and Duration: Average 20 hours per week from April 10, 2023 – September 22, 2023 OR 30-35 hours per week from June 5, 2023 – September 22, 2023
Primarily Monday-Friday from 8AM to 3PM with some flexibility, and some evening hours: up to two evenings per week. Other days and times as needed and agreed upon.
Required: Willing to consent to an AmeriCorps background check.
Ability to lift and move 20-40 pounds repeatedly.
Valid driver’s license for at least 4 years and pass driving history check (4 years good driving record).
Must be 21 years of age or older by start date.
Supervision Given by: The Local Food Recovery Specialist is supervised by the T2T Program Manager and is part of a team including the T2T Logistics & Relationships Coordinator.
If you’re interested in this AmeriCorps position, please submit an email of interest and/or a resume and cover letter (welcome but not required) to Allison Gnade at Table to Table via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Being an AmeriCorps member is about making a tangible difference for communities and individuals dealing with some of our nation’s biggest challenges: poverty, inequity, homelessness, and lack of access to education. Summer AmeriCorps members help organizations with activities that work to alleviate the effects of poverty all across the country. As an AmeriCorps member you will serve in a project identified and managed by the community while earning a modest living allowance that reflects the income level of the community where you’re serving.
Deep dive into composting
Banana peels, watermelon rinds, corncobs, eggshells, coffee grounds – the list goes on of food scraps that we don’t traditionally eat. Once we’ve eaten the banana, scrambled the eggs, and drank the coffee, what can we do with these non-edible scraps? Compost them!
Monthly Topic Overview
The Love Food, Fight Waste program has focused mainly on food waste reduction over the last several months because preventing food waste from forming in the first place is the top priority for reducing our environmental footprints. This priority is concerned with edible foods – the banana, not the peel; the egg, not the shell. For these non-edible food parts, composting is a great alternative to throwing these items out.
Below are several common questions related to composting answered.
What is composting?
Composting is the process of turning organic material (food scraps, garden/yard waste) into a nutrient-rich material that can be added to lawns and gardens to improve the health of the soil and the plants that grow in it.
Decomposition, the breakdown of materials, happens naturally in the environment. For example, leaves fall off trees during autumn and slowly decompose into detritus (organic matter) with the help of bacteria and bugs.
Composting is “facilitated decomposition.” The organic material in a compost pile is still naturally breaking down with the help of bacteria and bugs. In addition to this natural breakdown, Compost Operators facilitate this process by turning the pile to let oxygen in. Oxygen is needed for the materials to decompose.
What is organic material?
Organic material includes the following:
- Food (including fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, dairy)
- Garden/yard waste (including branches, grass, leaves, flowers, plants)
- Paper (including shredded paper, greasy/cheesy pizza boxes, paper napkins, paper towels)
- Clean paper, such as a pizza box with no food on it, is also fine to recycle.
- Shredded paper, due to its small size, is difficult to successfully sort at our recycling sorting facility in the mix of other materials which is why we do not accept shredded paper in curbside recycling. Shredded paper can be composted, or it can be recycled via the paper bin at a local recycling drop-off location.
What can be composted at our local Compost Facility?
All of the materials listed above in the last question: food, garden/yard waste, and paper products!
Who can compost at our local Compost Facility?
The Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center, where the Compost Facility is located, serves all of Johnson County (residents at no cost, and businesses for a fee).
Where is our local Compost Facility?
The Compost Facility is located at the Iowa City Landfill and Recycling Center on the west side of town, 3900 Hebl Ave. SW, Iowa City. The facility is open Monday to Saturday from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
How does our local Compost Facility make compost?
From start to finish, the composting process takes about one year at our facility. Here’s how it works:
As clean loads of organic material come into the compost facility at the landfill, it is piled in a designated area. Our Compost Operators use equipment to lift material from the pile and load it into the grinder equipment. The grinder shreds the organic material into evenly sized pieces. This shredded material is then formed into long rows that are approximately 12 feet high.
The organic material in a compost pile is naturally breaking down over time with the help of bacteria and bugs. In addition to this natural breakdown, Compost Operators facilitate this process by turning the material with equipment once per month. As the bugs and bacteria are working away breaking material down, they produce heat, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. Turning and mixing the material is an important step because it allows oxygen in and releases heat which maintains a healthy temperature and oxygen level.
During the processing time, each compost row is required to maintain a temperature of at least 132 degrees F for a consistent two-week period. This requirement ensures that heat kills harmful bacteria and pathogens.
After several months of decomposition, monthly turning, and consistent monitoring, the material processes into the nutrient-rich soil amendment that we call compost. Before it is available to the public for sale, the compost is fed through the screener equipment to pull out any large organic pieces that did not properly break down or contamination pieces. It sits for one month to return to ambient temperature, and then it is available for sale to residents and businesses in Johnson County.
How can I compost at home?
- Curbside composting
- Curbside composting is available to Iowa City residents living in single-family homes up to 4-unit apartment buildings ($3.50/month on utility bill).
- If you are a curbside customer, check out the Curbside Composting Guide.
- Backyard composting
- Learn how to compost in your backyard with the Composting At Home Guide.
- Take materials to the Compost Facility
- If you would like to reduce trips and wait until you have a larger quantity of food waste, place in the freezer until you are ready to compost to avoid odor and rot issues.
Don’t forget about source reduction!
Composting is a food waste disposal method that is environmentally-better than landfilling, but it is still waste. It is important to eat edible food as the first priority to prevent wasting good food and to reserve composting for the non-edible food parts.
If you compost:
Look in your compost bin to see the different items that have been thrown in. Are the food items non-edible, like coffee grounds, or are they food items that could have been eaten and instead were wasted, like moldy bread?
If you don’t compost:
Look in your trash can to see what has been thrown away. Do you see any non-edible food waste that could be composted? Check out the tips above to learn how you can get started with composting.
- Residential Curbside Composting Information:
- Home Composting Guide
- Learn more about the Iowa City Landfill services and the Compost Facility with this short video.
- NPR’s 5-step guide to composting
- Beginner’s guide to composting: How do I compost? Where does it end up? How does it help fight climate change?