The waste industry is no different from any other in many respects. There are economic cycles that ebb and flow, new innovations that help spark smarter ways of doing business, and emerging trends that take hold of the industry and even steer it in a new direction from time to time.
While the fundamental job of haulers is the same as it has always been—collecting waste and finding ways to dispose of it—the type of materials being prioritized for collection has changed.
One of the most significant shifts in the waste industry in recent years is the prioritization of diverting organics from landfill. Food waste has historically been the largest category of material placed in municipal landfills. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the amount of municipal solid food waste sent to landfill in the U.S. increased from 12,200 thousands of tons in 1960 to 30,250 thousands of tons in 2015.
In an effort to help better divert this material, municipalities have made organics collection a growing priority.
A 2017 report from BioCycle showed that U.S. communities with access to curbside food waste collection increased from 198 in 2013-14 to 326 in 2016-17 (a 65 percent increase). Similarly, the number of curbside collection programs available to residents in the U.S. increased from 79 in 2014 to 148 in 2017 (an 87 percent increase).
In October 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched the Winning on Reducing Food Waste Initiative. As part of the initiative, the agencies committed to work toward reducing food loss and waste by 50 percent nationally by 2030 through a combination of education and outreach, research, community investments, voluntary programs, public-private partnerships, tool development, technical assistance, event participation and policy discussion on the impacts and importance of reducing food loss.
With an increasing focus on keeping food waste out of landfill, the volume of materials diverted is sure to grow as more communities come on board and government entities push for legislative reform.
And while residential curbside food waste collection may get most of the headlines, yard waste and commercial organics diversion have been similarly prioritized through recent legislation and community initiatives.
With an eye on keeping track of these advancements in organic waste collection and disposal, we’ve included our 2019 Organics Waste Management supplement in this issue of Waste Today. In it, we explore what New York City’s Department of Sanitation has learned since rolling out its curbside organics collection program in 2013; how the Monterey Regional Waste Management District in Marina, California, works to process food, yard and wood waste for its customers; and the ways in which Vanguard Renewables is converting organic waste into energy at farms across the Northeast.
There will always be waste that needs to be managed, and although the emphasis on what’s collected and how it’s processed may change, you can bet the industry will be ready with solutions to meet these challenges head on.