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Montana Wins Award For Diverting Food Waste Away From Landfills

Food waste.
iStock/ Animaflora
Food waste.

The state of Montana has won an award for not wasting food. The Department of Environmental Quality and its nonprofit partners kept 829 tons of food from going into landfills in 2017. And for that, the U.S. EPA gave DEQ a 2018 Food Recovery Challenge Regional Award.

“It’s pretty special because, Montana – we’re that big, old state and we don’t always get a chance to be able to toot our horn sometimes. I’m pretty proud of this one,” says Dusti Johnson, a DEQ materials management specialist. That means she analyzes various forms of waste.

“To see if they can be repurposed, reused, both in chemical form or being broke down and putting back into any kind of new product.”

And food waste – our garbage – can be repurposed into compost. There’s a lot of wasted food to go around. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates food waste makes up 22-percent of America’s discarded municipal solid waste. According to EPA, more of it reaches landfills and incinerators than any other material in daily trash.

“Why keep putting it in the landfill if we can repurpose it and make it into good, usable soil? We’re trying to show there’s no sense in throwing it away, that it’s a very simple, natural process to turn it back into usable soils.”

DEQ distributed roughly $50,000 of grant funding across 10 Montana counties to create opportunities to recover wasted food. The funding enabled programs like ‘Gardens from Garbage’ in Great Falls, a nonprofit that teaches environmentally friendly composting techniques and diverts donated edible food to organizations that provide free meals to children and families.

DEQ is one of only two winners of the 2018 Food Recovery Challenge in EPA’s Rocky Mountain region. It shares that award with the full-service kitchen at the Boulder, Colorado jail. DEQ’s Dusti Johnson says Montana’s food recovery program will not only continue, but she hopes it expands to other counties.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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