County Update: ‘Let’s feed people, not landfills, this holiday season,’ says Commissioner Fast

Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 1 Commissioner Becky Fast.

The holidays are right around the corner and, for most of us, this season is full of gatherings with friends, family, co-workers and community organizations. In our quest to ensure that there’s plenty of food to go around, we usually end up with lots of leftovers. As you’re planning for holiday gatherings, now is a great time to think about food waste and the toll it takes on our economy and our environment.

Estimates show that up to 40% of food produced in the United States is never eaten. This costs you $450 per person, or $1,800 per year for a household of four – all for food that goes straight from your fridge to the trash can. There’s more to consider than just your budget.

When we waste food, we also waste the resources and energy that went into producing, transporting and storing that food. In addition to wasting resources, nearly all of the food waste ends up in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a form of climate pollution that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

A 2016 study showed that Johnson County’s food waste was slightly above the national average at 23% of landfill volume. Almost a quarter of what’s in our landfill could have been diverted if it had been eaten!

Johnson County is working in partnership with the three largest school districts (Olathe, Blue Valley, and Shawnee Mission School District) to implement composting and recycling programs in their schools. During 2017, SMSD diverted over 600,000 pounds of food and paper to compost and a portion was diverted to compost for school gardens.

In 2016, Johnson County Commission established the Johnson County Food Policy Council (JCFPC) to improve the health and well-being of our community. Nearly 60,000 Johnson County residents are food insecure and lack reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

As your District 1 Commissioner, I serve as your liaison to the County’s Solid Waste Management Committee. This Committee functions under the Johnson County’s Health and Environment Department and is partnering with the Food Policy Council. Together we are working with anti-hunger organizations to identify options to recover perishable food that would otherwise go to waste and donate it to people in need.

Households are responsible for the largest portion of all food waste. You can make a big difference just by making small changes in how you buy and eat:

  • Shop wisely by planning meals, using a shopping list, purchasing only the amount that you need, and avoiding impulse purchases.
  • Interpret most labels as estimates of top quality rather than end dates for safety.
  • Visit for an interactive guide on how to use up food that’s past its prime.
  • Freeze food before it spoils, including milk, cheese, eggs and meat. If you remove eggs from the shells and mix them well (scramble) then they can be frozen.

What about that dreaded holiday question – how much food should I make for 20, 30, or 40 guests? has a great tool called the Guest-imator to help you purchase just the right amount of food for the number of people you’re hosting. That means minimal leftovers and no food wasted.

There’s no better way to be thankful for all that we have than to be good stewards of our resources, and food is no exception. Happy holidays!