Rhode Island’s Food Scrap Bill Is Good For Business

Max Greene

On June 4, the Rhode Island Senate unanimously passed a CLF-supported bill requiring large producers of food scrap to send this and other organic material to composting facilities and anaerobic digesters instead of to the Central Landfill. This is good news! And it’s attracting national attention.

A story in the Wall Street Journal that same week discussed  Rhode Island’s efforts to keep food scrap out of the Landfill [paywall]. The story explains that landfilled food scrap generates the greenhouse gas methane and notes that Rhode Island’s Central Landfill is rapidly filling up. It discusses how food scrap can be beneficially reused in composting and anaerobic digestion – and it shows that composting and anaerobic digestion are generally inexpensive, noting composter Earth Care Farm’s $30-per-ton tipping fee and further noting that anaerobic digesters might even be able to charge less. This is really cheap – recall that the base commercial tipping fee at the Landfill is $75 per ton.

But the story also contains the following quote from a hospitality industry representative: “In concept, this is something we want to address … but we would really like to see the infrastructure in place first, because we have no way of knowing how much this is going to cost. It’s like they’re going to build the house and build the foundation later.” This quote not only gets the bill exactly backwards but also demonstrates why it’s so important that the General Assembly pass a food scrap bill into law.

In fact, the bill is designed to do exactly what the hospitality industry says it wants: establish the foundation necessary to support the beneficial reuse of food scrap and other organic material. That’s why no food scrap producer has to comply with the law until there’s a composter or anaerobic digester within 15 miles ready, willing, and able to accept that producer’s material – in other words, until there’s infrastructure in place. This requirement should draw new compost and anaerobic digestion projects to sites near large producers. And as for the industry’s concerns about how much compliance might cost, I’d point once again to the tipping fees mentioned above: $30 per ton for composting versus $75 per ton for landfilling. It’s easy to see which makes more economic sense. Not to mention that, as an extra carrot to the hospitality industry, the bill passed by the Senate allows producers to request a waiver from compliance with the law if nearby composters or anaerobic digesters can’t beat the Landfill’s price.

So if composting and anaerobic digestion are so much cheaper than landfilling, why is this bill even necessary? There are two main reasons. First, you can see from the hospitality industry’s position on the bill why developers might be nervous they’ll have trouble finding feedstock. This bill guarantees feedstock for new projects, reducing risk and attracting development dollars to Rhode Island. Second, and more importantly, if you’re a developer looking to site a new facility in New England, and you see that Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont all mandate beneficial reuse of organics, why on earth would you spend resources on Rhode Island? By joining neighboring states with landfill bans, Rhode Island makes itself just as attractive as its neighbors to new businesses generating new jobs – and the law’s waiver provision would ensure that this attractiveness comes at no cost to businesses that generate food scraps.

The upshot? Rhode Island’s food scrap bill would bring with it not only environmental benefits but also new businesses and jobs! And all at no cost to the state. If ever a law made perfect sense, this is it.

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