On the lookout for change

Separating food waste from MSW can reduce the amount of material that goes to landfills, minimizing the release of methane.

Because food waste is a significant component of what’s collected in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream, separating it at the source is one way to reduce the amount of material that goes to landfills, which has the added benefit of reducing the release of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

While food waste and yard waste collection in suburbia is largely a matter of haulers distributing collection bins to households, it is not so simple in urban areas. With narrower streets, less space to place bins and a much denser population to serve, collection logistically is more difficult, but that’s not the only challenge of food collection in urban environments. Because cities generally are more pedestrian-friendly, trash, recycling and food waste collection should be, as well.

Readers interested in finding creative ways to collect food waste in urban settings might enjoy reading our article titled “Filling in the gaps,” which discusses New York City’s efforts to create a 24/7 food waste collection program with curbside bins provided by BigBelly Inc. The program could provide an interesting urban model for diverting food waste from landfills.

If food waste and yard trimmings alone had been separated at the source, that would have accounted for more than 30 percent of MSW materials in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It will be interesting to see how industry professionals and regulations intersect to develop more organics collection programs. In California, Senate Bill 1383 is setting the pace on the regulatory front by requiring residents and businesses to separate organic materials like food from recycling and trash.

During the Waste360 Investor Summit as part of WasteExpo in May, WM Eastern Region Senior Executive President of Operations Rafael Carrasco said more organics technology is likely to appear in the next several years along with other changes for consumers that will lead to the capture of more recyclables.

“I think there’s still a lot of recycling contents ... trapped in the MSW stream that we can collect and that we can do a better job of educating our customers to retrieve,” he said. “We’ve announced investments to the tune of $800 million or so over the next five years in our recycling technologies. Part of what we’re going to be doing is working collaboratively with our customer base to unlock some of that stream.”

With increasing pressure from government agencies and environmental groups to limit landfill expansion, cut greenhouse gas emissions, limit food waste and recycle as much material as possible, the coming years will be interesting to watch.

October 2022
Explore the October 2022 Issue

Check out more from this issue and find you next story to read.

Share This Content