Keeping food out of landfills

Forty percent of food in the U.S. ends up in the trash.

That adds up to more than 20 pounds of food per person every month.

At a time when one in six Americans doesn’t always know where their next meal is coming from, these statistics from the Natural Resources Defense Council are raising some eyebrows.

But some members of the La Crosse community are taking extra steps to keep food out of our landfills.

Gundersen Lutheran goes through a lot of food. For a while, about 1,100 pounds of it went to waste at the hospital every week.

But not anymore.


“Wasting food is not acceptable. And in a hospital, you have 24/7, every day of the year, people. You have to have food available. But if you manage it well, and you really track it … you can reduce the amount that gets wasted,” said Gundersen Lutheran Sustainability Coordinator Tom Thompson.

Two years ago, they started keeping track of how much food they were wasting, what was being wasted and why.

It’s helped them reduce their food waste by 80 percent.

They also donate extras to the Salvation Army — perfectly good meals that would have otherwise gone in the trash.

“There could be a special function where they’ve ordered chicken breasts for 100 and 80 people show up. So those extra 20, those go to the Salvation Army. And the less fortunate are really happy to have them,” said the hospital’s executive chef and project manager Thomas Sacksteder.

But what do you do with food that can’t be saved? One option to compost it.

La Crosse resident Cheri Schuyler has a three-bin compost system in her front yard. In her basement, she’s got a couple of pans of worm composting.

She puts her food and yard waste in and lets Mother Nature do her work.

“Critters of all sorts. Bacteria is the initial breakdown,” said Schuyler. “Centipedes, millipedes, anything else that you would see crawling around on the ground will come.”

Those critters break down the food scraps into soil, which she then uses for her potted plants to grow more food.

“I love getting in there and seeing what nature can do. Because I really don’t feel like I do anything. I put it there, the bugs come, they eat it, it turns into something I can use and my plants love it,” said Schuyler.

Gundersen Lutheran does not have a compost system, but Sacksteder said it’s something he’s considering for the future.