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Reduce GHGs and Waste: Compost

by Leonardo Brito, owner Zero Waste Houston (a food waste pick-up and composting

service) and Susie Hairston

Houston, we’ve got two big problems — climate change and our ever-increasing waste footprint. The good news is, there is something each and every one of us can do to meaningfully address both of those issues right in our own kitchens and at our curbsides: we can prevent food waste and compost what we can’t prevent.


The bad news:

Houstonians produce "about 10 pounds of trash, per person, per day —more than twice the national average"(Metzger Luke. “How to fix Houston’s Trash Problem.” Houston Chronicle January 13, 2024).  


Landfills are rapidly filling up, they are wasteful and toxic, and it is increasingly difficult to permit new ones. For obvious reasons, no one wants them in their backyards. All landfills eventually leak toxic materials, poisoning ground and surface water. The water in food waste is, in large, partially responsible for the toxic leachate, providing transportation for the toxins in the landfills to escape. 


Landfills are the third largest emitters of methane in the US, and food waste in landfills is responsible for 58% of those landfill methane emissions (EPA).


The good news:

Food waste is the largest single source of landfilled Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) — coming in at 24% of all the MSW that goes to the landfill (EPA). Because of that, preventing food waste and composting what can’t be prevented are two of the most impactful things an individual can do to reduce waste sent to the landfill and reduce GHGs. 


Preventing food waste is your first step: Food production and distribution use land, water, and labor, all while producing GHG emissions. When we throw food away, we are wasting all of those things that went into making it. Preventing food waste is the best means of helping minimize waste and GHGs. Buy only what you need, store your food in a way that will make it last, eat your leftovers, and give any food you cannot use, that is edible, to organizations such as the Houston Food Bank, Second Servings, Target Hunger, and your local food pantries.


Composting the food scraps/waste you can’t prevent is the next step.Lucky for you, the composting movement has been growing in our area over the last few years. It used to be that if you wanted to compost your food waste, you had to do it yourself in your own backyard, but now there are many options. We still encourage you to compost your food waste at home if that works for you, but if it doesn’t, there are a variety of food waste drop-off (commercial and community garden) and curbside pick-up options in the Houston area.


What you can do: 

  • Support local food waste composting initiatives, participate in food waste drop-offs or sign-up for a curbside service. Previous area drop-off programs have diverted tons of waste from the landfill. In December 2020, Zero Waste Houston, a food waste pick-up and composting business, started partnering with communities in the area to divert food waste. West U’s 8-week food waste drop-off pilot program diverted 12+ tons of food scraps and compostables from the landfill. The Houston Heights Association’s 60+ week drop-off, which began in April 2021 diverted 60+ tons of food scraps. The City of Bellaire 7-week Pumpkin Drop-Off at the end of 2023 diverted 40+ tons of pumpkins from the landfill.



But even more impactful than the immediate diversion is the continued diversion in the communities who participated in these drop-off programs after the pilots were over. West U now has over 400 households using curbside composting services and has integrated composting food waste into city and community events. West U also has a preferred vendor program for food waste pick-up services and a page on the city website encouraging residents to compost. 250 of the participants in the Houston Heights drop-off program are now using curbside composting services. The Bellaire Sustainability Board is exploring holding a food waste drop-off pilot.



  • Participate, for free, in the City of Houston’s current food waste drop-off pilot in partnership with Zero Waste Houston. Drop off your food waste until February 29th at four convenient locations: Kashmere Multi-Service Center (Mondays 2-5pm), Acres Homes Multi-Service Center (Tuesdays 2-5pm), Alief Neighborhood Center (Wednesdays 4-7pm), and Sunnyside Multi-service Center (Thursdays 3-6pm). Bring items such as meats, bones, egg shells, fruit, vegetables, dairy, moldy food, coffee grounds, newspapers, greasy cardboard, and any other compostables. Participating in the pilot won’t just divert your few pounds of food waste, it will help us continue to accumulate empirical evidence that composting is a successful and effective way for Houstonians to divert organics from the landfill.



Reach out to Houston City Council members: 

  • Let them know you want the city to compost food waste. Remind them that other cities in Texas have city-wide food waste composting programs. Austin started a curbside food waste pickup pilot in 2010 for 14,000 homes, which was expanded over the years until they had city-wide curbside food waste pick-up as of 2021 (asutintexas.gov “The City Strives to Compost More.” September 8, 2021; 5:05 p.m.) Since San Antonio started a curbside pick-up pilot program in 2011, it has expanded the program to 368,000 residences and diverted 335,000 tons of waste from the landfill for composting as of 2021 (Pool, Julie, “The Dirt on Curbside Composting in Texas.” Texas Monthly. April 20, 2022.) Fort Worth has been running a food waste drop-off pilot since 2019.
  • Advocate for a SMART (Save Money and Reduce Trash) waste fee, adjusted based on income levels, where residents are charged a fee for the size of the trash can they put out, and that fee pays for recycling and composting programs.
  • Advocate for the development of more certified composting sites within and around the city. One of the limits for composting in our area is the lack of accessible composting facilities that are certified for post-consumer food waste. Currently there is only one— Nature’s Way Resources in Conroe.


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