Over 36 million tons of food waste reach landfills each year in the United States. Photo courtesy of szczel.
Over 36 million tons of food waste reach landfills each year in the United States. Photo courtesy of szczel.

Food waste converted to energy?  The state of Massachusetts just passed a law, effective October 1, aimed at doing just that.  The mandate requiring ‘large institutions’ to recycle (compost) food waste is said to effect approximately 1,700 colleges, high schools, hospitals, restaurants and other businesses across the state.

Any of these parties producing more than 1 ton of food waste each week will now, by law, have to send that waste to a composting site, animal-feed operation or plant that will then convert it into energy.  Gone are the days of throwing those scraps in with the trash.

The regulations are part of the state’s overall trash reduction goals.  By 2020, the state’s trash reduction goal is 30%.  By 2050, the state aims to reduce trash by 80%.  Residences and small businesses will not be affected by the new law as the state aims to target large volume generators of trash first.

According to published reports, food and organic material currently makes up about 25% of what is being land-filled in Massachusetts.  From an infrastructure perspective, the state currently has approximately 28 facilities capable of processing food waste most of which are actual composting facilities.  Some however are anaerobic digestion facilities that convert food waste into alternative energy, which can be used for heat, electricity or converted into fuel buses and trucks. And, more facilities may be constructed as a result of this new legislation.

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Ed Coletta said the state predicts complying with the new regulations will actually save money because it typically costs less per ton to send waste to a composting site than to a landfill. Quest Resource Management Group vice president of retail sales, Cole Squiers, agrees with Mr. Coletta and adds, “Recycling food waste is the number one tool for a grocery store to achieve their sustainability goals. Not only does it help the environment by reducing methane emissions, but also helps the local grower community. Quest has helped national retailers across the U.S. successfully divert millions of tons of food waste from landfills in a very short amount of time.

In a separate state initiative, 300 supermarkets saved an average of $20,000 annually per store by diverting food waste for recycling.  And, the state hopes to have the same successes with this new initiative.

Businesses and organizations interested in learning more about food waste recycling solutions can contact Quest Resource Management Group.

Feature image courtesy of Rene Schwietzke

By Chase Ezell

Chase has served in various public relations, communications and sustainability roles. He is a former managing editor for Earth911.com.