Out with the organics

Departments - Editor's Column

April 3, 2014


DeAnne Toto

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “More food reaches landfills and incinerators than any other single material in municipal solid waste (MSW).” In 2012, the EPA notes, the U.S. generated more than 36 million tons of food waste, which accounted for 14.5 percent of MSW. Only 5 percent of this material was diverted from landfills and incinerators for composting.

According to the EPA, the benefits of diverting food waste from landfills are multifaceted. The environmental benefits include reducing methane from landfills, reducing resource use associated with food production, creating a valuable soil amendment and improving sanitation, public safety and health. The EPA claims businesses can reap economic benefits by diverting food waste as well. These include lower disposal costs, reductions in overpurchasing and tax benefits from donating food. This last economic benefit provides a social benefit as well, as the EPA says an estimated 50 million Americans do not have access to enough food.

Many municipalities have received the message. San Francisco, for instance, has a mandatory composting program, while San Jose, Calif., businesses saw landfill diversion grow from 22 percent to nearly 70 percent from July 2012 to December 2012 when the city’s waste collection services began including source-separated organics.

Massachusetts also has introduced a commercial food waste disposal ban, which goes into effect Oct. 1, 2014. The ban is designed to divert food waste to energy-generating and composting facilities and to reduce the commonwealth’s waste stream.

The ban, regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, will require any entity that disposes of at least 1 ton of organic material per week to donate or repurpose the useable food. Any remaining food waste will be shipped to an anaerobic digestion facility, where it will be converted to energy, or sent to composting and animal feed operations.

“We are committed to protecting our natural resources and creating jobs as the commonwealth’s clean energy economy grows,” says Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan in a news release. “The disposal ban is critical to achieving our aggressive waste disposal reduction goals and it is in line with our commitment to increase clean energy production.”

Collecting organics has a unique set of challenges. In the feature, “Entering new territory,” beginning on page 96, we look at how one hauler and recycler addressed these challenges in preparation of Massachusetts’ organics disposal ban.

As more municipalities seek to divert organics from disposal and reap the benefits associated with doing so, reading about the experiences of other companies can help to reduce the learning curve for haulers and recyclers that may be handling this material for the first time.