Sustainable Blog

The Massachusetts Food Waste Ban

One way to boost food waste recycling.

Photo Credit: sporkist via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: sporkist via Compfight cc

Some states and municipalities in the U.S. are implementing food waste bans that prohibit sending food waste to landfills. The bans are one more tool local governments can use to reuse food waste and divert organic waste from landfills where it takes up valuable space and creates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. European countries like Germany and Sweden have been trailblazers in food waste recycling, due at least in part to landfill bans that prohibit sending some biodegradable wastes or recyclable materials to landfills1.

Massachusetts has one of the most ambitious plans to ban large businesses and institutions from discarding food waste. Beginning in mid-2014, commercial entities—universities, hotels, grocery stores, manufacturers—that produce more than a ton of organic waste per week will have to find alternative disposal methods. The state hopes to extend the measure to homes eventually. The idea is that the food waste can then be diverted to privately owned composting facilities and plants that convert organic waste to energy through anaerobic digestion.

The cost of the new system is intended to be offset by savings in trash fees and fuel and electricity costs. According to the Boston Globe, “State officials and biogas industry advocates acknowledge the expense of a new system, but they say diverting food waste to the plants or compost facilities would ultimately save most businesses and large institutions money.” More than half of Massachusetts supermarkets are already diverting food waste, and have found they can save $10,000 to $20,000 annually per store in disposal costs, said Greg Cooper, deputy director for consumer programs for the Department of Environmental Protection, in an article in the South Coast Business Bulletin.

“We’ve found it’s the right thing to do financially — and for the environment,’’ said Massachusetts Food Association president Christopher Flynn, who represents supermarkets throughout the state, in the Globe article. “It takes time to set up the process, but once it’s up, you’re reducing your trash fees.’’

The Boston Globe noted that US Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said she expects other states to follow suit, noting that the EPA recently changed the names of its waste offices to reuse offices.

Local farmers can benefit from the new rules as well. According to South Coast Business Bulletin, farmers can charge businesses and institutions for collecting waste and then resell it as compost. They can also use the waste themselves by composting it and spreading it on their fields, or by feeding food scraps to chickens.

Sustainable America actively supports food waste recycling. We’ve covered Houston’s innovative efforts to upcycle food waste, and even illustrated how to compost at home. In the U.S. 40% of our food is wasted, food that could be used as energy. Food waste recycling has the ability to help increase food availability and energy security in the United States. New composting businesses and anaerobic energy plants could mean job growth as well.

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.