This week, officials from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs proposed a ban on commercial food waste beginning in July 2014 that would aim to divert food and organic waste from landfills and support disposal through anaerobic digestion, a process that can transform the discarded material to energy.
Greg Cooper, Deputy Director of Consumer Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, said the proposal coincides with goals set in the recently renewed solid waste master plan, which by 2020 aims to reduce landfill waste in Massachusetts by a third from the current 6 million tons annually.
Cooper, who said estimates show that roughly 20 to 25 percent of all waste thrown away is organic, said the ban will target commercial entities that produce over 1 ton of waste per week.
"Colleges, universities, hospitals, hotels, supermarkets, large restaurants - those types of facilities,
said Cooper. "And we're doing that because we need to build a collection and processing infrastructure for food waste and organics."
Cooper said that by setting up a network to supply anaerobic digestor facilities with the organic waste to be converted into burnable biogas and fertilizer, along with $3 million in DEP loans financed by the state Department of Energy Resources to companies to build anaerobic digestors, will spur the development of the technology in the state.
"We anticipate that we'll have a lot of potential developers coming into the state and we already do have a lot potential developers coming into the state," said Cooper.
In a statement, DOER Commissioner Mark Sylvia said the initiative “meets multiple economic and environmental goals.”
The DOER is also providing $1 million in grants for public entities to pursue anaerobic digestion technology. $100,000 was awarded to the Massachusetts Water Resources Agency as part of a pilot program to introduce food waste into its sludge digestion facilities at Deer Island in Boston Harbor. The project is designed to examine co-digestion of sludge and food waste for biogas production.
Lynne Pledger, Solid Waste Director of Clean Water Action in Massachusetts, said that she is in full support of diverting organic waste from landfills, but also said she has concerns over the potential dangers of processing contaminated sludge.
"I think its important for the public to know what's in that material," said Pledger. "Either the sludge should not be digested with the food or there should be better requirements for testing, labeling, and restrictions for use of the material."
Bill Rennie, Vice President of the Massachusetts Retailers Association, said he hopes the Association’s members will gain more information over the proposed changes in regulations during the public comment period.
"Hopefully we can address any and all concerns that folks may have and ensure that people will be able to successfully comply with the new regulation as it comes into effect next year," said Rennie.