August 22, 2007 | General

Editorial: Food "Waste" By Any Other Name Is…

Nora Goldstein
BioCycle August 2007, Vol. 48, No. 8, p. 4
It’s time for a frank discussion with you, our BioCycle readers. The subject is the “w” word. Okay, we’ll say it – Waste. Most of us in the recycling and composting industry have struggled with this word for years. The struggle has to do with the fact that what we really are talking about are “resources” in the waste stream, materials that have a higher and better end use than just being thrown in a landfill to rot. But “waste” is a universal word and “resources” is open to interpretation.
BioCycle took a lot of heat about 10 years ago for our subtitle of the magazine at the time, “Journal of Waste Recycling.” So we changed it to “Journal of Composting And Recycling.” That subtitle seemed to work on the cover of the magazine, but inside we were not consistent. Green stuff from the yard (and brown from the trees) is a case in point. We were interchanging “yard waste” and “yard trimmings” or overusing the word “materials” (a somewhat decent substitution for waste). But that seemed – from an editor’s perspective – to be more a matter of ensuring we were being consistent (versus struggling with the word that follows yard), as trimmings seems to work out fairly well when talking about brush, limbs and grass (I guess for leaves it would be more appropriate to say “fallings”).
But where we get stuck – and this hasn’t changed in the last 15 years – is what word best follows “food” when it comes to what doesn’t get eaten, served, donated or recycled into a by-product (e.g., at a food processing plant). I hate to say it, but waste works pretty darn well, especially because the food being discussed in that particular article, in essence was wasted, i.e., it didn’t get eaten on the plate, or too much was prepared for the number of meals to be served, etc. And so we struggle.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with a handful of state solid waste agencies, appears to have settled in on the word “scraps.” Here are the first two sentences of the text on the EPA web page titled, “Basic Information About Food Scraps”: “Food leftovers are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States. Americans throw away more than 25 percent of the food we prepare, about 96 billion pounds of food waste each year.” Okay, so in a few short sentences we see food scraps, food leftovers and food waste. Clearly, the USEPA is struggling with this too.
In this month’s special report, Focus on Food Residuals Composting (starting on page 25), you can see we chose “Residuals.” The word “residuals” feels better than “waste.” (Heck, the first three letters of the word, “res,” are the first three letters in our favorite alternate word for waste, “resources.”) Residuals is probably a pretty good fit for what comes out of food processing plants, but somehow in the household or restaurant kitchen, it isn’t the first word that pops into one’s head when considering these materials feedstock for composting.
This struggle that I am sharing with all of you has taken on a bit of urgency. BioCycle editors and contributors are preparing a manual on Food “Fill In The Blank” Composting And Recycling to be published by the end of the year. We welcome your suggestions to fill in the blank. Please send them along to Thanks in advance for the help!

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