FORT KNOX (April 22, 2016) -- Getting food from "farm to table" eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed here, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council. Yet, 40 percent of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten. This not only means that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year, it also means that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills, which accounts for a large portion of methane emissions.

To help combat this issue, last year Fort Knox's Environmental Solid Waste conducted a three-week study at Catigny Dining Facility to assess the feasibility of creating an Organic Waste Collection Program, with the possibility of going installation wide, said Brian Faber, the Environ-mental Solid Waste manager.

Faber said before the three-week program the diversion rate, which is anything the installation can reuse or intended for reuse, at the DFAC was 12 percent and at the end of the pilot program the rate increased to 95 percent, which would help the installation reach the 2020 goal of net zero waste. The Department of Defense has a 60 percent mandated diversion rate for construction and demolition debris and 50 percent mandated diversion rate for solid waste.

"Composting increased the diversion rate," explained Faber. "(The DFAC) got rid of all plastics, tin (and) aluminum cans and food. (It) diverted 16,600 pounds of organic (materials and) 8.3 tons of food were collected (which) would have gone to the landfill. Food that decomposes (is) the largest contributor to gases that deplete the ozone layer."

The pilot program was conducted during the time when more than 21,000 cadets are on the installation to attend summer training during a 90-day period. That equates to more food waste.

Faber said each cadet wastes 2.2 pounds of food per day, which is harmful to the environment.

Before the pilot program recycling of organics, food and wood waste, were at 59.9 percent, special waste was 4.3 percent, paper and cardboard 18.4 percent, plastic 12. 1 percent, metals 2 percent and glass was 3.3 percent.

After three weeks those recycling numbers were 75 percent for organics, 2 percent for grease, 5 percent for garbage, 10 percent cardboard, 5 percent plastic and glass and 3 percent for metal cans, which accounted for an 83 percent increase in the diversion rate.

He added that there are numerous benefits to having an organic waste program which include:

To surpass mandated diversion rates of 50 percent nonhazardous solid waste and 60 percent construction demolition debris.

Addresses largest portion of solid waste--60 percent organic from dining facilities--being disposed of in landfills.

Reduce solid waste costs and landfill space.

Reduce carbon footprint, which means less water and electricity use.

Reduce methane from rotting food.

Faber said other benefits include reduced water usage and maintenance costs from pulpers, in dishwashing and garbage disposal areas, less lifting of trash into dumpsters and reduced use of garbage bags. Pulpers grind food particles into smaller items, and getting rid of them is a cost saving measure.

And Faber pointed out that over the years there has been a misconception that the installation is prohibited from donating food that's isn't eaten by patrons at the DFAC. He said that isn't true. In fact the installation can donate food as long as the organization is a 501(c) agency that receives the excess food and distributes or serves the food to needy populations. A signed waiver is also required which states, "To the best of our knowledge this food is good."

Another way of recycling food is through composting which Faber said makes a rich soil. One way of doing that is taking paper towels that are used on post and combining that with food scraps for composting.

Composting helps the environment by suppressing plant diseases and pests, it reduces or eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers and promotes higher yields of agricultural crops. Additionally, it aids in reforestation, wetlands restoration and habitat revitalization efforts by adding to or replacing nutrient depleted soil.

Although the post doesn't have a compost program, Joe Yates, chief of the Environmental Compliance Branch Environmental Management Division, said individuals can compost by dumping items a bin or trash can in an individual's backyard.

"Composting makes rich soil," said Yates. "All kinds of food waste, weeds and grass (can be used for compost). (You) don't want to use a lot of leaves (because) too much of one thing isn't helpful."

While meat scraps can be composted, if individuals have a concern about scavengers they might consider not using meat in compost.

Faber pointed out that Fort Knox is setting the example and the goal for the post should be "nothing leaves here unless it's trash," and it's important for this to be a joint effort with the communities outside the gates as we work to preserve our resources.