Food Waste Challenge encourages conservation at home

IGI wants Islanders to be conscious about food they buy and food they throw away.

Food waste collection bins are available at all the Island transfer stations. —Lucas Thors

The Island Grown Initiative (IGI) is holding a Food Waste Challenge that seeks to engage Islanders in actively reducing food waste, and galvanize folks of all ages to think more about what they buy and what they throw away.

Next week, IGI will launch the first step of its six-week Food Waste Challenge, which involves attaining a general understanding of how much food each household throws away every day.

Eunice Youmans, project director for the Food Waste Initiative at IGI, told The Times that the purpose of this two-week audit period is for families to measure the amount of food scraps they scrape from their plates every day, and consider the reasons that food is not being consumed.

All folks need for the food waste audit portion of the challenge is a smartphone or camera, a notebook, a bucket, and a scale.

Once the audit begins, families are asked to collect information in a logbook for three meals a day for five days over the initial two weeks.

Each day, families scrape all their food waste into the bucket, and are supposed to consider what they are scraping into the bucket, and whether or not that food can still be put to good use. 

Enter the date for each day, and identify what your meals consist of, and why you are throwing some of that food away.

At the end of each five-day period, weigh the bucket of food waste and enter that weight into your logbook along with your name, grade and school, number of people in your household, type of meal, and number, and the reasons the food wasn’t eaten.

Throughout the entire process, participants should be posting their observations along with pictures to social media, and tagging @islandgrown for Facebook or @islandgrowninitiative for Instagram. If you do not have social media, you can send your weekly findings to

Participants can take before and after pictures that show the meal or ingredients before it is prepared, alongside a picture of the food waste in your bucket.

After the two-week audit period, the real challenge begins. For the first segment of the challenge, families should familiarize themselves with their pantry and refrigerator. Know what you are buying, and what you might be able to go without. The second step of the challenge is to go to your grocery store and shop smart. Plan your meals, and make sure you are not shopping in excess. Only buy what you need.

The third part of the challenge is to recover any edible food you have, instead of tossing it in your bucket. Don’t want to eat that bruised banana? Throw it in a smoothie, or use it for baking. Make soup stocks out of bones and leftover meat, whip up yummy and nutritious smoothies with old fruit in your fruit bowl, and use your freezer as much as possible to keep food fresh.

The final step in the six-week challenge is to recycle your food waste in a responsible way that reduces the amount of food shipped off-Island to landfills. 

If you can’t recover and utilize your food waste from home, dispose of it in an environmentally conscious manner.

Youmans said the goal of IGI and other conservation efforts on the Island is to reduce the total amount of food waste shipped off the Island by 50 percent by 2030.

“Residential waste is the single largest contributor to food waste in the United States. Statistically, every time a family goes to the grocery store to buy five bags of groceries, they throw two of those bags away,” Youmans said.

Youmans said food waste represents approximately 10 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world — something Islanders care about. “We are talking about a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions. From packaging, shipping, all the way to the landfill. Half of those emissions are methane gas, which has a much longer lifespan in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide,” Youmans said.

And with a unique community on the Island, Youmans said, there are many things Islanders can do at home to mitigate the impact that carbon emissions have on the environment, and conserve food to promote food security.

“Our challenge is how do we encourage people to think about what they eat and what they throw away. Food security was already a huge issue here on Martha’s Vineyard, and now it is an even bigger problem,” Youmans said.

Last year, IGI deployed food waste collection bins at all the Island transfer stations, where people can bring up to five gallons of food waste and dispose of it properly for only $2 a load. Folks can also bring their food waste to the Thimble Farm Hub in Vineyard Haven for free.

“We expected food waste volume in transfer stations to go up, but it has actually gone down,” Youmans said. “How do we take this opportunity to change the food waste equation on the Island?”

One of the most essential goals for IGI with this initiative is to educate people of all ages on the best ways to conserve and mitigate food waste, and to be a model for other communities. “One of the fantastic things about the Vineyard is we have kind of a spotlight on us, because of all the people that come here. We can be a representation of change in the world, and that is pretty cool,” Youmans said. “We have an amazing opportunity here.”

IGI is also working with schools to try and get students involved in some optional courses that involve food waste education.

Not only does reducing food waste help the environment, but it saves families money, and gives them fun activities to do with their kids that simultaneously support the next generation of environmental stewards. 

“There are so many amazing aspects to reducing your waste stream. We want people to give it a try, and have fun while they are doing it, over these next six weeks and beyond,” Youmans said.