They're Here: Food Waste Disposal Bans

VT Began July 1;  MA Begins Oct. 1

Support by environmental groups echoes arguments for biosolids recycling.

Vermont passed Act 148 in 2012, and the state Agency of Natural Resources' resulting "Materials Management Plan" became effective in June.  The Act required generators of more than 104 tons/year of food scraps to divert them from landfills beginning July 1st - if an appropriate organics recycling facility exists within 20 miles.  By July 1st of 2015, 2016, and 2017, the size of generation affected will be reduced to 52, 26, and 18 tons per year, respectively.  By 2020, all food scraps must be diverted.

October 1st marks the beginning of enforcement of the Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) ban on landfill disposal of food waste generated at institutions and other sites at a rate of 1 ton or more  per week.  

"In 2011, Connecticut mandated that large generators of food waste separate organic materials from other solid waste and ensure that such source-separated organic materials are recycled at a permitted composting facility not more than 20 miles away. The law was designed to spur construction of in-state infrastructure to manage
food waste" (American Farmland Trust et al., 2014.  New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System, March 2014).

This year, Rhode Island followed the other states' lead, passing H7033 SubA as amended in June.  That law becomes effective for 104 ton/year (2 tons/week) generators on January 1, 2016.  It requires that "each covered entity and each covered educational institution shall ensure that the organic waste materials that are generated by the covered entity or at the covered educational facility are recycled at an authorized, composting facility, or anaerobic digestion facility or by another authorized recycling method," so long as the recycling option is located within 15 miles.  In the original bill, generators of smaller amounts of organic waste materials were going to be subject to this landfill ban in subsequent years, but this stipulation was taken out of the final version.  Rhode Island also added a unique clause that allows generators to apply for a waiver "if the tipping fee charged by the Rhode Island resource recovery corporation for non-contract commercial sector waste is less than the fee charged by each composting facility or anaerobic digestion facility."

These organics diversion efforts in New England have become a significant focus of recycling and environmental groups such as Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).  And the arguments they are using in support of organics diversion are similar to those made in support of biosolids recycling.  This makes sense: organics are organics.  As NEBRA has noted, biosolids are "The Other Recyclable Food Waste" (see NEBRA presentation to the Northeast Resource Recovery Assoc., June 2014).

NERC has held several workshops advancing organics recycling, and CLF teamed up with the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group and American Farmland Trust in publishing New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System in March 2014.  These organizations' arguments for recycling organics are familiar to those recycling biosolids: 

"While organic material is extremely useful for agricultural soil amendments, current waste stream systems lead to excessive discarding of organic material as waste.... Researchers have found that on average, organic soil amendments like compost significantly improve soil quality and agricultural output. Studies show that organic soil amendments decrease soil bulk density while increasing soil nitrogen content, soil water retention, and even resulting crop yields compared to conventional fertilizers.  Organic material can also be 'fed' to anaerobic digesters, producing heat, electricity, and biosolids that are also useful as soil amendments. Finally, beneficial reuse of organics keeps huge volumes of organic material out of rapidly filling New England landfills. Moreover, when food scrap and other organic material are sent to landfills, they decompose and give off methane, a greenhouse gas more than 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide. In fact, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions in the United States, responsible for the equivalent of over 100 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.  One study has estimated that diverting 75% of organics from the waste stream to composting “would cause a dramatic decrease in methane, to as much as one-quarter the business-as-usual rate.”  And using compost as an agricultural soil amendment does not just avoid methane emissions from landfill – it actually increases the soil’s capacity to store more carbon, helping to keep it out of the atmosphere.  In sum, the beneficial reuse of organic material – in particular, composting – allows for healthy soil, less landfilling, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions" (American Farmland Trust et al., 2014).