Any food that was thrown away in my house was easy to ignore until it piled up in a plastic container on the kitchen counter.

The city of Gainesville made the container available as part of a pilot composting program. The container is a way station for food waste before it is thrown into a 5 gallon bucket in the back yard. The bucket is collected once a week so that the leftover food in it can be turned into compost for use on farms in the area.

My neighborhood was fortunate to be one of a handful in Gainesville selected for a 174-home pilot. The project is largely funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and is an early test that food waste collection is working across the city.

“It’s just a small step in the long road to zero waste,” said Tom Strickland, recycling coordinator for the city of Gainesville.

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Much more needs to be done to meet Gainesville’s goal of zero waste by 2040. Composting and recycling programs need to expand, and people like me need to change wasteful habits too.

Reducing food waste should be an easy sale as it saves money while preventing climate change. The average American spends an estimated $ 1,300 a year on food that is thrown away.

More than 63 million tons of food are thrown into US landfills every year. There it decomposes under low-oxygen conditions, which lead to the release of methane – a greenhouse gas that is at least 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide when the planet warms up.

Composting allows food to break down in more environmentally friendly conditions while also producing a nutrient-rich material that nourishes plants and gardens. In Gainesville’s pilot project, the local company Beaten Path Compost collects the buckets of food waste and produces compost that is sold to regional producers.

Composting is on a long list of things I’ve thought about but never did. My wife Colleen even got a composter from a Facebook group “Buy Nothing” where people exchange unwanted items (another great way to reduce waste). The pilot was a way to get used to getting our food waste out of the trash before we maybe compose ourselves.

The program accepts vegetable waste such as apple seeds and banana peels, as well as uneaten bread, cheese, nuts, pasta and processed foods. Paper products used with food such as napkins are even collected.

Prohibited items include drier lint (which may contain microplastics), fish, meat, and animal waste. Strickland reports that so far the program has been free of contamination problems, while collecting an average of 6 to 7 pounds of food waste per household

A list of items that will be collected and banned in Gainesville's pilot composting program.

All of this waste is kept out of landfills and used for a product that supports local jobs and farms. And people like me are starting to better understand how much food we waste – which hopefully will help change habits as Gainesville works toward our zero waste goal.

– Nathan Crabbe ([email protected]) is The Sun’s Opinion and Engagement Editor.

Sun opinion editor Nathan Crabbe