A widespread effort

A push for better food waste diversion practices has led to increased state legislation targeting organics recycling.

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Food waste continues to be a major contributor to climate change. According to a United Nations Environment Programme report published in 2021, food waste accounts for roughly 8 percent to 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

With more than 70 billion pounds of food thrown away every year, organics are the single-largest category of material placed in municipal landfills. To address the impacts of food waste on communities and the environment, some local and state lawmakers have introduced legislation that provides for more comprehensive solutions for this waste stream.

In July 2020, Vermont became the first state in the nation to enact a food waste landfill ban. The legislation, an extension of the state’s Universal Recycling Law passed in 2012, requires food scraps to be donated, used as animal feed or recycled through composting or anaerobic digestion.

Since the introduction of the food waste disposal ban almost two years ago, Vermont has reported a significant spike in the number of residential and commercial compost service providers in the state. The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation says the number of food scrap haulers in the state has more than tripled from 12 in 2012 to 45 in 2021.

The number of customers these service providers have also has grown. For example, Stockbridge, Vermont-based Music Mountain Compost has grown to more than 300 customers since its inception in June 2020. The company, which offers biweekly residential and commercial compost pickup, now diverts roughly 40 tons of food waste annually.

This growth in the food waste collection space also can be seen with the expansion of Scarborough, Maine-based Agri-Cycle into the Vermont marketplace. In October 2021, the company announced new partnerships and food scrap hauling services, as well as the addition of five employees to its Vermont sales team.

Taking action

As food waste diversion efforts gain traction throughout the United States, more states have begun enacting their own organics recycling legislation. At the beginning of the year, organics recycling laws went into effect in California and New York. Those states joined Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, which have similar legislation.

In California, Senate Bill 1383 took effect Jan. 1, requiring residents and businesses to recycle organics. In addition, all jurisdictions must provide organics collection services by 2024. Each jurisdiction can choose its own method of collection so long as it can recycle the organic waste into usable products, including compost, biofuel and paper. This includes one-, two- or three-container systems.

In light of SB 1383, waste haulers throughout California, including City of Industry-based Athens Services, have implemented changes to their trash and green waste collection services.

According to an announcement by Athens Services, the company began collecting and recycling food waste into compost at the start of 2022. It is now partnering with cities within its jurisdictions to implement food scrap collection for single-family homes and multifamily complexes.

The city of San Diego rolled out a similar program this year, issuing green bins to households and businesses for food waste.

“Every [food waste] generator [in San Diego] will get a green bin, and it will be for their yard trimmings and nonhazardous wood waste, as well as food material and food-soiled paper,” Ken Prue, deputy director of the city’s Environmental Services Department, told KSWB-TV.

The bins will be picked up weekly once the program is up and running.

Prue said the efforts will help lengthen the life of local landfills and decrease the amount of hazardous gases released when food scraps end up at the landfill.

As for New York, as of Jan. 1 the state requires its largest generators of food waste to implement diversion practices. The law states that businesses and institutions that generate an annual average of 2 tons of wasted food per week either need to donate excess edible food or recycle remaining food scraps if they are within 25 miles of an organics recycler (composting facility, anaerobic digester, etc.).

However, the law does not apply to New York City (which already has a local law requiring the diversion of food scraps from disposal), hospitals, nursing homes, adult care facilities, K-12 schools or farms.

“You have to get to those people who understand [the importance of] and are willing to make a little bit of a commitment [to the program]. And, apparently, we’re reaching them because our outreach has been pretty successful.” – Teresa Kenny, supervisor, Orangetown, New York

Starting small

Orangetown, New York, also has launched a pilot program to collect food waste that is targeted at its residents as well as those of the state’s Rockland County more broadly.

The town is working with the Rockland Green Solid Waste Authority on the initiative, which advocates say will help the environment by reducing waste and greenhouse gases while also saving money.

The program—inspired by a similar effort in Westchester County, New York—comes in response to the state’s recent Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Law.

“[Westchester] has already started [a similar] program, and they were well into it,” Orangetown Supervisor Teresa Kenny says. “They had begun introducing it to other communities in New York, so we had a Zoom meeting with the people who started the program to see what they did and how they did it.

“They actually now have a residential pickup, which is our ultimate goal here [in Orangetown], but we had to start with kind of a demo of the program.”

The Orangetown program, which was launched in December 2021, placed 15 green bins at the town’s Highway Department facility to hold food waste brought in by residents in biodegradable bags provided by Orangetown and Rockland Green.

The collected organics are then transferred to the Rockland Co-Composting Facility, operated by Rockland Green. There, it is mixed with water sludge and other bio-solids using technology called In-Vessel. According to Rockland Green, this composting process produces nutrient-rich compost for use on golf courses and in flower gardens and landscaping projects.

Although the food waste drop-off program is still in its early stages, Kenny says she has been blown away by the amount of support and participation Orangetown residents have shown. As of late January, an estimated 920 pounds of food scraps have been collected through the program, with roughly 1 percent of Orangetown’s nearly 50,000 residents participating.

“You have to get to your right audience,” Kenny says. “You have to get to those people who understand [the importance of] and are willing to make a little bit of a commitment [to the program]. And, apparently, we’re reaching them because our outreach has been pretty successful. I didn’t expect so many people to buy in so quickly. Like, when we ran out of the bins right away, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really good.’”

Going forward, Kenny says she envisions growing Orangetown’s program to the rest of Rockland County, with the hope of eventually adding regular residential food waste collections.


The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.

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