Editor’s Note: This article was originally written by David Stern and Will Uhl for FoodiEconomy, an Ithaca College student publication. It is republished with permission.

ITHACA, NY – At one time or another, nearly everyone is guilty of throwing away perfectly edible food. Maybe that last bite was a little too much, or maybe the ‘use-by’ date had passed and it seemed safer to just throw it away. Whatever the reason may be, throwing away food contributes to the massive amounts of pollution and methane emitted from landfills.

In Ithaca, alternative food disposal systems have been made readily available to residents and local businesses. Composting and donating excess food and organic material contributes to the sustainability of the community, through collective support from grocery stores, restaurants, food pantries and volunteers.

GreenStar Cooperative Market provides locally-sourced, organic food to its customers by partnering with farmers in the area. Functioning as a grocery store, restaurant, and learning center, GreenStar is a popular destination for Ithaca residents who hope to support local agriculture and sustainable food production.

According to Sadie Knewstub, facilities manager at GreenStar, the co-op strives to be environmentally friendly in all of it’s practices. A major aspect of achieving this is the proper management and disposal of excess food.

“I think our job, as GreenStar, is trying to divert from the landfill as much as possible,” Sadie Knewstub, facilities manager at GreenStar, Knewstub said. “We’re trying to not be wasteful and at least give the waste back to the earth.”

In order to return excess food to its natural energy cycle, the co-op collects all of it’s organic waste for composting, such as food scraps, unsold food and packaging.

“There’s about 20 bins a week for the store and our central kitchen, and each bin weighs about 90 pounds,” Knewstub said.

These bins of organic waste are picked up by Cayuga Compost and then processed into nutrient-rich fertilizer, which it is then sold for $35 per cubic yard, she said. By sending extra food to be composted, GreenStar is able to significantly reduce its waste and contribute to a local system of sustainable agriculture.

In addition to composting, the co-op also donates food to local organizations. This practice ensures that less food will in turn produce less waste.

“We donate about 600 pounds a month to food banks and then the rest of it gets composted, and some goes to the staff as well,” Knewstub said.

Food pantries, such as Loaves and Fishes, accept food bank donations and turn them into nutritious meals for all to enjoy. Katie Noonan, assistant kitchen manager and volunteer for Loaves and Fishes, said the food pantry is a big believer in community.

“Anyone is welcome; everyone is welcome, there are no questions asked,” Noonan said. “People from all kinds of backgrounds and walks of life come to find the company and hospitality and a good meal.”

Noonan said as a result of collaborating with local restaurants, grocery stores, farmers and volunteers, Loaves and Fishes is able to serve around 3,000 meals per year, with alternative food options for those who need it. Every main course includes either meat or fish, however, there is always a vegetarian or vegan alternative, along with fresh green salad, bread and desserts.

Along with receiving donations from restaurants such as Panera and Starbucks, Loaves and Fishes also receives food from larger grocery stores in the area.

“Wegmans is incredible, as are other local stores,” Noonan said. “We get a tremendous amount of fresh produce during the growing season from farmers who are raising food as their business, as well as home gardeners. So as soon as the growing season starts we just really have the wonderful opportunity of cooking incredibly fresh foods.”

She said collective support of sustainable food disposal has helped create an open environment that everyone can participate in. In addition, not only do these efforts help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and waste, but they also strengthen the Ithaca community.

“People come because they’re hungry, people come because they’re lonely,” Noonan said with a smile. “People come because we’re great, people come because the food is fantastic and they find friendship and warmth and a lot of fun here.”