Soil And Mulch Producer News
RokStories New England Leads Nation in Food Waste Recovery, Four States On Board
By Todd Williams
Prompted by rapidly shrinking landfill space combined with a growing national movement to recover food scraps, four New England states have passed stringent laws mandating separation of food waste from general trash.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island all have enacted legislation that, while slightly differing in each state, effectively bans the co-mingling of food waste with other recyclables and general trash. The laws in these states are the toughest in the nation, and make recycling mandatory

Recognizing the food waste conundrum as a national issue, these four states have taken the problem head on, by enacting new regulations.

And, according to the U.S. EPA, these rules are coming none too late. The EPA says more food reaches landfills than any other single material in municipal solid waste. In 2012 alone, more than 36 million tons of food waste was generated, with only five percent diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.

The EPA cites a number of reasons to divert food scrap from landfills including environmental benefits such as reducing landfill methane emissions, reducing resource use associated with food production, creating a valuable soil amendment, and improving public sanitation. Economic benefits include lower disposal costs, reduction of over-purchasing and labor costs, and receiving tax benefits by donating food.

According to K.C. Alexander, Organics Recycling Specialist with the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), the state’s mandatory recycling legislation was first passed in 2011, with food scrap regulations added last year. The mandatory rules already target leaves and grass clippings. Thus food scraps became the next logical step in the recycling agenda.

Alexander says the new recycling legislation was added, in part, because the rate of waste recycling and composting in the state has remained stuck at about 26 percent over the past decade. Connecticut still disposes 2.4 million tons of trash annually, or an estimated 1,370 pounds of trash per person per year. Because the state has only a few landfills, most of Connecticut’s bulky trash is shipped out-of-state. The state’s goal is now a 60 percent recycling rate.

The new food scrap law went into effect Jan. 1, 2014 calling for the recycling of commercially generated source-separated organic materials. The legislation, Alexander explains, addresses commercial food wholesalers or distributors, industrial food manufacturers or processors, supermarkets, and resorts or conference centers.

It states that if these businesses are located no more than 20 miles from an authorized source-separated organic material composting facility and generate an average projected volume of not less than 104 tons per year of waste, they must separate the organic materials from other solid waste and send it to the composting facility.

After January 1, 2020, the law lowers the minimum tonnage requirement to 52 tons per year.

Alexander adds that businesses affected by this law, can also meet requirements by composting source-separated organic waste on site or treating it on-site via organic treatment equipment.

“We had a food scrap processing infrastructure that had a gap. There were simply not enough places available for recycling food waste. I believe this mandatory food scrap legislation will provide incentive for companies to come into Connecticut and build the infrastructure that’s necessary to handle the food scraps,” Alexander says.

She notes there are now six resource recovery facilities operational or planned for in the state - three existing composting facilities and three anaerobic digesting plants that have applied for permits. She notes this is woefully inadequate for a state that puts 13 percent of its food scraps in the waste stream.

“But if we build it they will come. In other words because the state has passed this mandatory regulation regarding food waste, we are confident companies will invest in the composting and anaerobic digestion facilities necessary to handle the increased volume,” she notes.

Neighboring Massachusetts has 14 active landfills, but is planning for the day these dumps are filled by enacting broad reaching food waste regulations under the existing waste management authority.

According to David W. Cash, Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, food waste regulations have been under discussion for at least 10 to 15 years, due in part, to the fact that 30-40 percent of the stream is organic waste.

In fact, he notes the state’s businesses and households still pitch 6.5 million tons of garbage every year – enough to fill up Fenway Park 74 times. And compostable organics make up more than 30 percent of all that trash.

Cash explains the food waste ban prohibits disposing of the food scraps in garbage for businesses and institutions producing one ton or more of scraps per week.

Whereas many people see food waste as the red headed stepchild of recyclables, Cash sees these organics as income producers. And he views their conversion as a way to fight greenhouse gas emissions in his state.

“Our food waste regulations hit the sweet spot unlike any other environmental regs in our state. We can cut greenhouse gas and develop an economic opportunity at the same time,” Cash says.

As the ban went in to effect on Oct. 1, 2014, Cash points out of the 1,700 commercial entities that have to comply with the food waste prohibition, 1,400 were either complying or were on the path to compliance. Furthermore, Cash claims there has literally no opposition to the food waste ban, noting many business who fall under the ton per week limit, are starting to divert their food waste as well.

He explains that this high level of compliance is based upon the amount of information and assistance the state has given to businesses as well as a third party, RecyclingWorks In Massachusetts.

Contracted by the state to help businesses and institutions comply with the waste ban by increasing their recycling efforts, RecyclingWorks provides free web-based resources and guidance, including a searchable service provider database, a phone hotline and direct technical assistance.

With the assistance of the state, the private firm and an apparent willing base of recyclers, Cash says the Commonwealth’s overall goals for reducing waste disposed are 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. The organic diversion goal is 450,000 tons per year of an estimated 1.3-1.5 million tons per year by 2020, or 30 percent.

He cites six major, positive outcomes to food waste reduction for his state as well as other New England states currently facing the problem.

First is the obvious reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from landfills. Second is increased job creation due to new businesses such as anaerobic digestion and composting facilities. Next is the reduced use of dwindling landfill space as well as the cost of shipping food to these locations. Fourth is a reduction in the cost for food disposal. Fifth is the expansion of clean, renewable energy. And finally, the new regulations foster the reuse of food products.

Cash points to the University of Massachusetts at Lowell as an example of how the food waste ban might play out for a typical institution.

“The university knew its cafeteria was producing too much food waste. The first step it took was to remove cafeteria trays from the scene because officials knew students were simply taking too much food on the trays. Now students leave less food waste by carrying plates of food,” he explains.

And finally the university deployed the latest in food waste processing technology in its food waste diversion scheme. The waste is sent to a composting facility and the resulting enriched compost is returned to the university for use on its landscaping and community gardens, Cash notes.

Although, like some states Massachusetts’ food waste facilities are not yet full, the state is planning for the future by enacting regulatory reform in order to speed up the process for the siting of new composting and anaerobic digestion facilities. There are now 35 composting facilities and four anaerobic digestion plants operational, and two more to soon come online. There are also 10 livestock feed operations in the state.

Compared to the Bay State’s tremendous capacity for the diversion of food waste, its tiny neighbor Rhode Island has little room for food waste disposal. With a landmass of only 1,045 square miles, the smallest state in the Union, with the second densest population, only has one large landfill for general trash disposal as well as composting, and 17 small, on-farm composting facilities of which three accept food scraps. Only one facility, Earth Care Farm, in Charleston is the only commercial composting site. Only municipal waste can be sent to the Central Landfill in Johnson, no commercial waste and no food waste.

Despite the acute lack of facilities to process food waste, the state has forged ahead with legislation to ban the dumping of food. Going into effect in January 2016, the law mandates that supermarkets, food wholesalers, food makers, conference centers, banquet halls, restaurants, prisons, corporations, religious institutions, hospitals, casinos and military bases that produce more than 104 tons of organics yearly send their waste to a compost facility, farm, or anaerobic digester.

However, these organizations will be exempt from the law unless they are within 15 miles of such a facility, according to Laurie Grandchamp, Supervising Engineer, Rhode Island Office of Waste Management.

Grandchamp notes that the state has had several anaerobic digestion facilities show interest in opening facilities in Rhode Island. However, to date no final deals have been made.

“We don’t have enough capacity right now to handle the food waste that will be coming in 2016. But hopefully, more facilities will open between now and then,” Grandchamp explains.

According to Sarah Kite-Reeves, Director of Recycling Services at Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the quasi public entity which operates the Central Landfill, no one really knows how much additional organics will enter the waste stream once the food scrap ban goes into effect.

“I do know that as of this moment our landfill does not accept food waste for composting, only yard waste. Since we compost with windrows, it’s hard to use food waste because of the odor,” she explains.

She adds that about 800,000 tons of general trash is brought to the Central Landfill yearly and estimates another 1.1-1.2 million tons are hauled out-of-state.

The Director is, however, very hopeful that more companies will seek out Rhode Island to open compost and anaerobic digestion facilities.

“No one knows for sure how much food waste will be generated by this legislation. But I am sure that the law will become a catalyst for the construction of digesters because the law guarantees feedstock for these units. And in order to secure construction financing, a reliable supply of feedstock is necessary,” she notes.

Furthermore, even with a generous supply of fuel for the digesters, there is another factor in building these plants – the cost of electricity. Kite-Reeves points out the in the Northeast, the cost of electricity has been inching downwards due to the fact that most power produced in that region is from natural gas, not coal.

“Falling electric prices effect the decision to build a digester. If we were to consider this at the Central Landfill, we would have to do a cost benefit analysis before committing to this capital expenditure,” she explains.

Because of its diminutive size yet important location, Rhode Island land prices are astronomical, making space for food waste processing facilities an expensive proposition. She notes that this land cost situation comes into play when deciding to build an anaerobic digester or a compost facility.

However, Kite-Reeves is optimistic that the infrastructure to support a vigorous food waste recycling program will be in place over the next several years, predicting, “Capitalism will take its roots here.”

Although the most rural and the least populated of the four New England states enacting food waste laws, Vermont has forged ahead with legislation that is expected to bring more private investment in anaerobic digestion plants and composting facilities.

Department of Environmental Conservation Environmental Analyst John Kelly, his state’s law developed so as to allow “a hauling infrastructure to be built.”

He explains the food waste rules are part of a larger, comprehensive law called the Universal Recycling Law. Going into effect in July 2015, the law will ban from the landfill recyclables such as glass bottles and jars; steel and aluminum cans; aluminum foil and plates; plastic containers, jars, and bottles; corrugated paper; white and mixed paper; as well as newspaper, magazines, paper mail, box board and paper bags. Leaf and yard debris and clean wood waste will be banned by July 2016 and food scraps by July 2017.

Kelly notes Vermont’s law goes far by requiring curbside collection under the same timeline. For the commercial food scrap diversion, by this past July, food scrap generators of more than 104 tons a year had to divert waste if they were within 20 miles of a certified facility. By July 2015 the rule will apply to generators of more than 52 tons; by July 2016 generators of over 26 tons; by July 2017 for generators of more than 18 tons. And by 2020, all food scraps, including those from households must be diverted with no exemption for distance.

He further explains that Vermont provides incentives to reduce waste by requiring municipalities to implement variable rate pricing or Pat As You Throw, for materials collected from residential customers based on volume or weight, by July 2015. Haulers will also be required to utilize a variable rate pricing system.

Waste diversion rates in Vermont have stagnated between 30 to over 36 percent over the past 10 years. This is become even more critical because, according to Kelly, one of the state’s two landfills is nearing its capacity.

Because of the looming waste crunch, Kelly is very optimistic that more composing and anaerobic digesters will flock to the state.

“We already have 10 haulers as well as a dozen small to medium size and one large compost facility. We also have 17 on-farm anaerobic digesters who use the gas for energy and heat production. Vermont is a big dairy state and has a lot of manure to process. This makes it easier for food waste diversion,” Kelly notes.

Kelly said a recent statewide study shows that 2022 there will be 44,000 tons of food scraps to be processed.

“Since our on-site digesters can already process 50,000 tons, we should be able to handle the volume”, he points out.

Although all four New England states have passed different laws to address unique situations in their jurisdiction, all four have recognized the need to deal with a growing issue before it gets out of hand.

“The enacting of wood waste bans is a win, win, win, win, win, win situation for Massachusetts, as well as the country,” Cash says.

And in all four states, the food legislation is also affecting public opinion and public action.

“Already there is a attitude about food waste, not just in businesses but in households as well. It’s a long-term process. Government regs will set the standards, and private industry will step up to the plate,” adds cash.

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