Rhode Island Is Ready to Recognize That Food Scrap Isn’t Trash

Max Greene | @jmwgreene

Think about what you throw away. Lots of it probably comes from food: banana peels, onion skins, carrot tops, apple cores. We’ll call these materials, collectively, food scrap.

Now imagine you run a restaurant, a school or hospital cafeteria, a college dining hall. You might well be feeding hundreds or even thousands of people a day. This means you’re probably producing a lot of food scrap. So what do you do with it?

Right now in Rhode Island, most of this food scrap is treated as waste and sent to the Central Landfill, where it decomposes and produces the potent greenhouse gas methane. And, though that methane is supposed to be captured and burned, quite a lot of it escapes. This is one reason CLF is suing the landfill.

But food scrap doesn’t belong in a landfill. In fact, it’s not waste at all!

Food scrap can be reused or recycled into useful products: It can be composted, resulting in a material that improves soil quality (adding nitrogen that feeds plants and improving the soil’s ability to retain water, among other things) and increases agricultural output – see this study [pdf] for a broader overview. When applied to agricultural land, compost also stores carbon that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere. Additionally, food scrap can be “fed” to machines called anaerobic digesters that convert it to electricity, heat, and biosolids that are also useful as soil amendments.

Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts have already recognized that food scrap does not belong in landfills. These states have undertaken efforts to send food scrap to composters and anaerobic digesters instead. 

Now some forward-thinking lawmakers in Rhode Island have likewise introduced bills that would keep food scrap out of Rhode Island’s Central Landfill. 

Spearheaded by Representative Donna Walsh in the House (where the bills are H-7033 and H-7482) and by Senators Catherine Cool Rumsey and Susan Sosnowski in the Senate (where the bills are S-2315 and S-2436), these bills would require much of the food scrap produced in Rhode Island to be composted or anaerobically digested – provided there’s a nearby facility that’s ready, willing, and able to receive it. This requirement is flexible – it allows, for example, on-site composting as well as hauling food scrap to a commercial facility. And it only covers businesses and institutions, not individuals.

If the bill becomes law, it not only will benefit Rhode Island’s environment and agricultural sector, but also will almost certainly spur the development of large-scale composters and anaerobic digesters, benefiting Rhode Island’s economy as well. In fact, developers optimistic that a bill will pass are already exploring sites for new facilities here.

CLF strongly supports these bills. I have been working with Representative Walsh and the Rhode Island environmental community to help them pass. You, too, can help by writing or calling your representatives and senators and telling them you support keeping food scrap out of the landfill. 

It’s looking like the Rhode Island General Assembly is ready to recognize that food scrap isn’t trash – let’s make sure they do.

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