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Massachusetts Enacts Commercial Food Waste Disposal Ban

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has expanded its waste disposal bans to include commercial food wastes produced by large generators, effective October 1, 2014.

Under the amended waste ban rule, the new restriction will apply to waste streams from any entity disposing of one ton or more of food waste per week. Any person disposing of, contracting for disposal of, or transporting food and vegetative materials from such a large scale generator will need to separate and divert those materials to reuse, recycling or composting operations.

MassDEP’s RecyclingWorks program has assembled a Food Waste Estimation Guide which is intended to help businesses predict whether their activities will trigger these new requirements. Further agency guidance on the organic waste disposal ban can be found here.

Food wastes are joining a large and growing list of materials already banned for disposal by MassDEP in order to promote reuse and recycling. Banned materials currently include leaves, yard waste, batteries, tires, white goods, metal and glass containers, single polymer plastics, recyclable paper, metal, wood, asphalt, brick, concrete, cathode ray tubes and clean gypsum wallboard.

According to MassDEP, organic wastes such as food waste currently represent the largest single component of the waste stream after other banned wastes are excluded. MassDEP has set a statewide goal of diverting 30% of food waste from disposal by 2020, which would amount to 350,000 tons of diverted organic wastes per year.

To help accomplish this aggressive target, MassDEP has devoted substantial resources and state funds to spur the development of an organics recycling infrastructure. These efforts have included:

  • establishing a low interest loan program for the purchase of containers and equipment for organics recycling, offering pilot grants;
  • capital grants and per ton subsidies to municipalities willing to develop organics recycling facilities and roll out organics recycling programs;
  • identifying state properties where anaerobic digestion facilities may be developed and issuing an RFP for selection of a developer for a facility project on public land;
  • revising the regulatory permitting process for organics recycling facilities to provide exemptions from permitting and a fast track permit-by-rule option;
  • offering pre-permitting assistance to private developers of facilities; and
  • providing funding opportunities for private facility development through the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Through DOER, there have also been recent changes to the renewable portfolio standard for renewable energy producers which improve the ability of anaerobic digester facility owners to earn high value renewable energy credits.  

The diversion of organic food wastes from disposal to reuse and recycling represents a substantial shift in the practice of waste management, both for the generators of this material and for the solid waste management industry. The release of the final disposal ban regulation caps a multiyear policy development process which has been a primary focus of state solid waste planners and represents a very large investment of state resources and funding.

Numerous implementation issues still need to be addressed in order to transition smoothly to the waste ban by October 1, 2014. Among those issues are the calculation of waste generation quantities to determine which facilities are subject to the ban, whether a separate transportation infrastructure will be available to manage source-separated organic material, and whether diversion, composting and digestion facilities will be available with sufficient capacity to absorb the expected flow of material. MassDEP has expressed strong optimism that these challenges will be met. It is an interesting time for all who are involved in this transition.

For more information on the development and implementation of the commercial food waste disposal ban, please contact Stephen Richmond at srichmond@bdlaw.com.