Massachusetts’ New Food Waste Disposal Ban

by Brittany Peats

As of October 1, 2014, Massachusetts’ facilities producing over a ton of organic waste weekly are banned from disposing of their organic waste in landfills. At least 1,700 facilities are affected by this regulation including hospitals, schools and supermarkets.

In October, Massachusetts enacted the most progressive law regarding food waste in the country. Food waste is an increasing problem, as Americans now throw out as much as 40 percent of food produced, and food waste takes up about 25 percent of the space in landfills — more than plastic or paper. Organic waste includes food waste, which is food that is prepared but not eaten, and the waste involved with food production, such as vegetable trimmings and eggshells. This waste typically goes to landfills where it takes up ever diminishing space. Through passing this regulation, Massachusetts aims to divert a large portion of organic waste to facilities that can compost the waste.

The new Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban went into effect on October 1, 2014 and applies to all businesses that produce over one ton of organic waste per week. It is estimated that at least 1,700 facilities in Massachusetts will be affected by this regulation, including hospitals, schools, supermarkets, restaurants, correctional facilities, conference centers, food manufacturers, and food distributors.

This rule will divert hundreds of tons of food waste that is typically disposed of in landfills. This is important because Massachusetts’ limited landfills are filling up quickly, and it is unlikely that more will be built in the near future. This rule will also help the state reach its goal to reduce its total waste 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

Sending organic waste to a separate facility may increase disposal costs, so businesses will have an additional incentive to reduce their food waste. Businesses may do that through better forecasting of what and how much food will be required, resulting in fewer leftovers. Businesses can also donate more edible food to food banks, soup kitchens and food rescue organizations.

Finding places to compost this sudden increase in organic waste is a concern. Though some organizations may be able to compost their waste on-site, most organizations will need to transport their waste to a facility. Available facilities in Massachusetts include: 10 farms that accept food scraps for animal feed, 30 composting facilities and 4 anaerobic digesters.

According to a rough estimate from the EPA, the businesses that are part of the ban could produce around 225,000 tons of organic waste per year. State officials say they expect much more than that, up to almost half a million tons per year. The composting facilities in Massachusetts can process roughly 400,000 tons per year. However, many of the composting facilities have been processing, and will continue to process, organic waste from organizations other than those that are part of the ban.

Anaerobic digesters could help process much of the organic waste, as they are able to process large volumes faster than traditional compost facilities. The digesters can process up to 100 tons per day while traditional composting facilities typically process about 15 tons per day. These digesters are particularly good for the environment as the digesters are able to convert the methane gas produced through decomposition into power. By contrast, when organic waste rots in landfills, the methane gas is released into the air.

To help businesses create new anaerobic digesters, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and other organizations will provide grants, low interest loans and technical assistance to those who plan to open new digesters and other composting facilities.

Existing wastewater treatment plants may pilot using anaerobic digestion for organic waste. For instance, the Deer Island Treatment Plant in Boston Harbor is currently planning a pilot project in one of their digesters. Also, the Stop and Shop distribution center in Freetown, MA plans to open a digester next year.

As a result of this disposal ban and these digesters, it is expected that more renewable power will be generated and more green jobs will be created. And, more compost will be created, which may be used by farmers and landscapers across the state.

Additional haulers to transport organic waste from the businesses to the composting facilities may also be required. Fully diverting all organic waste created by the businesses that are part of the ban may take some time. As of June 2014, roughly half of the businesses subject to the regulation had a plan to comply.

This law does not require households to compost their food scraps. There have been some pilots in other cities to compost household food waste. There are similar, but less stringent, composting mandates in Vermont and Connecticut which require businesses producing over two tons per week and located within 20 miles of a composting facility, to compost. The Massachusetts law has been in the works for about ten years.

The RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts website provides technical assistance for organizations that would like to improve their composting programs, including a hotline and a search function to help locate a hauler or processor of food scraps.

Brittany Peats is a second year FPAN student. She had a vermicomposting bin for several years and now has a Somerville-subsidized black composting bin.

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