Farm to Fork… to Farm: Patrick Administration Announces Ban on Food Waste Disposal

Elena Mihaly | @ElenaMihaly

food-waste-disposal

In Massachusetts, nearly 1 million tons of food end up in landfills every year. A new state regulation aims to change that. Photo credit: jbloom via photopin cc

Peer into a dumpster outside of a large supermarket in the state of Massachusetts today and you’ll realize the overwhelming amount of food that enters the waste stream every day. Some of it shouldn’t be headed for landfills in the first place – 25 percent of the total waste (think cardboard or food) could be salvaged for either composting or energy generation. Currently, 900,000 tons of food waste end up in the state’s landfills every year. That’s like burying the Golden Gate Bridge’s weight worth of food in Massachusetts’ landfills on an annual basis!

Fortunately, the Patrick Administration is doing its part to help cure this food waste problem in Massachusetts. Late last week, the Administration announced final regulations for a statewide ban on commercial food waste disposal, to take effect on October 1, 2014.

The ban, regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, will require any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic material per week to donate or re-purpose the usable food. Any remaining food waste will be shipped to an anaerobic digestion facility (which uses microorganisms to break down organic waste and convert it to clean energy), or sent to composting and animal-feed operations.

While the regulation won’t tap into the residential food waste problem (the average American family of four throws away the equivalent of up to $2,275 annually in food!), it does affect approximately 1,700 businesses and institutions, including supermarkets, colleges and universities, hotels, convention centers, hospitals, restaurants, and processing companies. What’s more, these new regulations not only will “save” and re-purpose organic material that otherwise would be wasted, they should also deliver economic savings: food waste separation programs often yield net savings on institutions’ trash disposal costs.

This regulation is an important milestone for the Commonwealth to reach several of its environmental goals: cutting the state’s waste stream 30 percent by 2020 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The mandate will keep valuable organic materials out of landfills, and contribute to the state’s clean energy portfolio.

In addition, the regulation is a boon for Massachusetts’ green job sector. Conor Miller, founder of Black Earth Compost, is one entrepreneur of many in the state who will benefit from the new regulations. According to Miller, he’s seen increased interest in his services over the last few months as businesses and other large institutions prepare for the regulations to come into effect. “What I like about the new ban is that just by mentioning it, it gets not-so-environmentally conscious business people to think seriously about composting,” Miller says. “People give composting more thought, and are more open to the idea because the government is standing up for it.”

We agree. Governor Patrick, kudos to you and your Administration for taking a stand on commercial food waste.

Looking for ways to reduce your own household food waste? Check out these resources for starting to compost at home — with more and more cities and towns starting composting programs, even apartment-dwellers can recycle their food waste. Learn about home composting in Massachusetts. Check with your town’s Department of Public Works about local composting programs.

Learn more about CLF’s Farm and Food work.

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