Details Emerge on Massachusetts’ Ban on Dumping Organics

The news:

In May, the Massachusetts DEP indicated that the state would ban landfilling or incineration of commercial food waste. Yesterday, more details emerged as the Patrick Administration announced the plan.

Mind you, the proposed plan is just that. It’s in draft mode, and there will be public hearings seeking comments. There’s also a draft guidance memo anticipating the questions the MassDEP may receive from restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, schools, hospitals and others. Entertainingly, this memo gets pretty detailed: “Is pet food included in the definition of commercial organic materials?” Yes.

My take:

-The one-ton-per-week minimum is too high. Viewed another way, Massachusetts is saying ‘We’re okay with you dumping 1,999 pounds of food weekly into landfills.’ The idea is admirable–protecting small businesses from onerous food waste removal expenses, but I think they’ve gone too far. Their guideline for one ton per week is a restaurant or supermarket that employs 35 or more employees.

I’d prefer to see the state make it compulsory across the board, and then prompt competition between haulers and composters to keep food scrap collection prices down. Also, we should ensure that businesses are paying less for regular trash collection after removing the wet, heavy food waste, through “pay as you throw” schemes.

-On the other hand, if the cost of food waste removal is prohibitive, it will prompt waste reduction. I can imagine restaurants and supermarkets with a double economic motivation (original food cost + disposal cost) really trying to cut their waste to get under that one ton threshold.

-It’s great to see attention given to the often-ignored feeding food scraps to animals. Given the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy, that should take priority over composting and anaerobic digestion (AD). I hope it doesn’t become an afterthought in the MassDEP plan.

-It’s encouraging to see some grant money and low-interest loans attached to the program. Anaerobic digestion facilities aren’t cheap, so that will definitely help (as will creating a stream of separated food waste).

-Overall, MassDEP’s commercial food waste ban is quite positive. But…if the state wants to meet its goals of reducing its waste stream by 30 percent by 2020 and 80(!) percent by 2050, it will have to expand the ban to households. I’m guessing that comes next.

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