USDA: 40 percent of food wasted in U.S.

By Matt Porter

June 25, 2013 Updated Jun 25, 2013 at 9:28 AM EDT

Ithaca, NY (WBNG Binghamton) At the Ithaca Coffee Company, little is wasted. Including the leftover food on your tray.

Rachel Clare, general manager of Ithaca Coffee Company, said the restaurant has been composting food for years.

"We compost the coffee that is used, and we compost the filters and cups that go along with that," Clare said. "We have a café and a food space, so any food that is not used gets composted."

Composting is the process of letting bio-degradable waste decay naturally instead of piling it into a landfill.

The compost eventually becomes usable as fertilizer.

Using food as compost has been growing at a rapid pace in an effort to reuse the more than 40 percent of food waste thrown out annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Estimates of the cost of food wasted each year could be as high as $165 million, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit environmental group.

"We are more and more conscious about buying appropriately so we don't have as much waste," Clare said.

At Cornell University next door, they compost almost a million pounds of food each year.

Head Chef Steven Miller showed off a revolving tray dumper that can process thousands of pounds of food a day.

"The food scraps would come back, they would go into the trough here, be washed into what we call a pulper," Miller said. "And basically grinds up all the food refuse and ships it down two floors so we can put it into compost buckets and ship it into recycling."

Therese O'Connor said all of the universities compost goes to maintain the university grounds and experimental farming areas.

"It's all used to be a soil supplement to all the gardens on campus," O'Connor said, "Some of the experimental farms, so it's completely recycled and used."

Composting nationally keeps millions of pounds of waste out of landfills.

The USDA estimates are more than two-thirds of trash could be composted.

At Cornell, the change to composting has made a visible difference.

"The landfill, what we call landfill waste, has probably been reduced 40 and 45 percent," O'Connor said.

If you are interested in starting your own back yard compost, Broome County offers instructions on their website.