POSTED BY Marion Goodsell
On January 31, 2014, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced the final regulations for the statewide commercial food waste disposal ban. The ban goes into effect on October 1, 2014, and it will cover about 1,700 businesses and institutions producing a ton or more of food waste per week. The ban helps Massachusetts to achieve several environmental and cost saving goals, while encouraging the development of waste to energy generation facilities, as new sources of renewable energy and clean energy jobs.
MassDEP, through a partnership with RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts, is helping covered businesses and institutions to learn about and to implement cost-efficient solutions. Compliance may be achieved by adjusting purchasing to prevent spoilage, by donating excess food, or by arranging with a waste hauler for separated food scraps to be diverted to a composting or anaerobic digestion waste-to-energy (AD) facility.
The ban helps Massachusetts to promote several policy goals at once. As a practical matter, landfill capacity in Massachusetts is dwindling with an estimated 12 years of remaining capacity. This increases disposal costs, as waste management companies must long-haul trash to facilities outside the state. Food waste is some of the more heavy and dense trash, and so diverting food waste to local composting and AD facilities can be cost beneficial. Once the food waste is diverted, the most direct consequence is the reduction of methane released into the atmosphere, where as a greenhouse gas it is 34 times stronger at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Instead, AD facilities can capture the methane and transform it into biogas for the generation of heat and electricity, while generating fertilizer from residuals. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the generation of renewable energy help Massachusetts strive to reduce emissions to 25% below 1990s levels by 2020 and to support development in the clean energy technology industry, which has seen a 24.4% job growth rate over the past two years.
The ban aids all these goals by placing a priority on waste reduction, effectively targeting methane emissions, and creating a reliable supply of raw materials for composting and AD energy generation. In turn, this reliable supply allows companies like Harvest Power to confidently invest and develop AD facilities in Massachusetts. To further encourage research and development of AD energy generation, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s Commonwealth Organics-to-Energy program has awarded 18 grants worth over $2.3 million to public and private entities. While new facilities are coming on-line, current wastewater AD facilities have become more productive with the inclusion of food waste, which has three times the methane production potential of biosolids.
Diverted food waste along with other organic waste to anaerobic digestion has been the primary source of renewable energy in Germany, which has invested in the technology for the last 25 years and has 6,800 large-scale facilities. Massachusetts is leading the US in the expanded application of this technology and setting a trend for other states and cities to folllow. Recently, New York City announced a commercial organics diversion regulation that will become effective on July 1, 2015. The executive director of the Washington-based American Biogas Council called the NYC regulation “a shot of adrenaline to the growing biogas and compost industries which are ready, able, and willing to manage organic wastes as a resource.” Notably this enthusiasm extends to a diverse group of stakeholders, who are extolling the NYC regulation, and the ban here in Massachusetts, as environmentally and business friendly for both food waste producers and those ready to convert the waste into energy.