Composting excess food is better than landfilling it, but it would be even better to avoid creating the excess in the first place - or failing that, to find people to eat that excess food, according to Ed Holmes, public service manager for State College Borough, which began foodstuffs composting in 2010.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the same in its Food Recovery Hierarchy.
The next best thing would be for animals to eat it, Holmes said.
Pigs, for example, says the website.
The next most desirable use for excess food is through industry - for example, by the rendering of fats, oil and grease into biofuel or other products, according to the hierarchy, which is available on the EPA website.
Composting and anaerobic digesting is next.
The EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy
Source reduction strategies in order of recommendation:
-Don't produce excess
-Feed hungry people
-Find industrial uses
"One step above landfilling," Holmes said.
There are some situations where it's simply impractical to deliver people-edible or animal-edible food where it needs to go, Holmes indicated.
Plate scrapings from restaurants aren't fit for people to eat, for example, he said. But they may be suitable for animal feed, he said.
Some food products - like coffee grounds - simply aren't edible, he said.
Landfilling food is wasteful on multiple levels, according to the EPA website. It wastes the resources used to produce the food - including water, fertilizer, pesticides and energy.
It also adds unnecessary greenhouse gases. Thirteen percent of the greenhouse gases produced in the U.S. come from the growing, manufacturing, transporting and disposal of food, according to the website.
Landfilling waste food exacerbates that problem that by creating methane, "a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide," according to the website.
Composting produces less greenhouse gas than landfilling, Holmes said.
For the last five years, Sheetz Inc. has done well by the hierarchy's second level: "feed hungry people" - donating much of the food that it can't sell because of freshness deadlines through the Feeding America program, formerly known as Second Harvest.
Under that program, Sheetz signs "good faith" agreements by which individual stores make their excess available to nearby soup kitchens and food pantries, according to company spokeswoman Monica Jones.
The food - sandwiches, hot dogs and rolls, for example - is "perfectly healthful and safe," Jones said.
The practice began when the company opened its Sheetz Bros. Kitchen in Claysburg, Jones said.
Executive Vice President for Marketing Louie Sheetz asked his staff to find a way to give away unsold food the kitchen was producing, until sales caught up with the new offerings, Jones said.
"It took off from there," she said.
Now about 225 Sheetz stores in six states - more than half the company total - have partnered with one or more charitable agencies, according to Jones.
The multiple partnerships may mean a store's excess goes to a soup kitchen on three specific days a week and to a pantry on two other days, she said.
Usually, the charitable agency picks up the food, but if it's not practical, store employees can deliver it, Jones said.
Stores - like the one in McKee - that can't find a convenient local partner unfortunately need to throw their excess away, she said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.