Why Bagged Salads End Up In Landfills Instead Of Compost Piles

italian_blendWhen food is past its prime and leaves the distributor or supermarket, where does it go? We’d like to think that it all ends up in a compost pile or anaerobic digester, which at least re-purposes the food and the methane it gives off while decomposing to fertilize future crops and to generate electricity. Here’s one sad exception: bagged salads.

Farmers would rather plant too much and throw away the excess than plant too little and risk not meeting contract requirements or running out. That means farmers or distributors are stuck with excess food, which they have to give away or throw out.

An NPR reporter visited the municipal dump in Salinas, California, which happens to be where 70% of the salad greens that we eat are grown, whether they come to us in a bag or not. (We’re not sure what proportion of salad containing toxic beetles come from Salinas.) There she saw food waste in action as bags of edible salad were dumped along with regular garbage.

How fresh is this food being trashed? Reporter Allison Aubrey and the dump’s operations manager looked closely at one load of bagged lettuce, which had a “sell by” date that was a few weeks into the future. She called the processor of that lettuce, Taylor Farms, and was told that they try their best to re-home greens before sending them to the dump.

A spokesperson explained that they would prefer to give away excess salad to employees and food pantries, but sometimes trash happens. “The last option is sending product to disposal. It’s rare that product gets disposed of, but it does happen,” he e-mailed.

You can watch trucks full of bagged lettuce fill up a landfill on your own TV tonight: a video version of this story will be on PBS NewsHour tonight.

Why are tons of fresh produce dumped in landfills every day? [PBS NewHour/NPR]

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