Commonwealth Magazine

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

REGULATIONS of environmental regulators aims to reduce food waste in the state starting in November, moving towards a goal of reducing the disposal of all waste statewide by 30% by 2030, while strengthening Massachusetts’ green economy.

The Department of Environmental Protection is expanding its waste disposal bans by lowering the commercial organic food waste ban threshold and adding mattresses and textiles to the list of materials prohibited from disposal or transportation for disposal in Massachusetts.

Former Governor Deval Patrick implemented the Commercial Food Waste Ban in 2014, which regulated entities that generated at least one ton of food waste per week. Under the regulations, these companies must donate, compost or otherwise reuse food, instead of sending it to landfills or incinerators.

The updated regulations will lower the threshold from Tuesday for businesses that produce at least half a ton of food waste per week.

About 2,000 businesses are subject to the current ban, said MassDEP’s deputy director for solid waste, John Fischer, and the new threshold will affect about 2,000 more businesses.

The original ban applied primarily to large entities, such as supermarkets, hospitals, hotels, colleges and food manufacturers, processors and distributors, Fischer said.

The changes coming on Tuesday will primarily affect restaurants, with around 1,300 restaurants that will be subject to the new ban. Other businesses newly subject to regulation include small manufacturers, supermarkets, hotels, nursing homes and residential facilities, elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, and correctional facilities.

The data used to prepare these estimates is from 2019, before the impact of COVID-19. Fischer therefore warned that the actual number of companies affected could be lower than estimates.

“The restaurant industry has been heavily impacted by COVID, so we believe in the short term it will be smaller than that,” he said, as many restaurants closed or changed their business models to give priority to takeaways, which produce less food. waste.

Boxes (left) from Food Link’s Arlington office are shown ready for delivery. The white bins (right) are filled with food waste to be composted. [Sam Drysdale/SHNS]

In addition to the positive environmental impact of creating less waste, Fischer said, the regulations have two “really significant” economic benefits.

With limited solid waste disposal capacity in the state and throughout the Northeast, the regulations will divert food waste from traditional disposal locations such as landfills and reduce the amount of waste that must be sent for disposal. in other states, he said. Additionally, trash bans are attracting new businesses to Massachusetts in the recycling, composting, and food donation industries.

“It’s innovating new small businesses, all of which tend to operate locally, create new jobs for Massachusetts, and involve the community,” he said.

The nonprofit advocacy organization MASSPIRG had advocated for a total ban on commercial food waste, said the organization’s executive director, Janet Domenitz.

When asked why the state hasn’t pursued the zero-waste ban, Fischer said Massachusetts currently doesn’t have the capacity to collect all of that food waste statewide.

“We felt that the half-ton per week threshold would allow us to continue to support it and to continue to accelerate the program that would work well for both the companies that collect this material and for the companies that have had to divert the material,” he said.

The ministry will revisit the idea of ​​a zero-waste ban in 2025 and then assess it, Fischer said.

Although there is no total ban in place in November, MASSPIRG and other environmental organizations in the Zero Waste Massachusetts coalition, which are working to reduce waste disposal, have shown their support for the regulations. adjusted as a step towards their goal.

“We need to move away from landfilling and burning, and towards reducing, reusing and composting,” said Staci Rubin of the Conservation Law Foundation. “These new bans represent progress. Communities of color and low-income residents bear the brunt of waste disposal, and every step we take to reduce disposal means a cleaner, fairer Commonwealth.

Product donations are pictured at Food Link’s Arlington office, including carrots, squash, pears and onions. [Sam Drysdale/SHNS]

Domenitz said burning and burying things that can be recycled “is like throwing away our future.”

For businesses that will be newly impacted by the food waste ban starting Tuesday, Fischer recommended visiting RecyclingWorks Massachusetts, a website that provides free assistance to businesses in Massachusetts on composting and waste reduction and a tool to help them estimate their food waste.

Elise Springuel, director of operations and community partnerships at food donation organization Food Link, said the ban will affect small businesses, which don’t have access to resources that larger businesses may have, such as facilities. on-site composting or industrial partners for organic waste.

“There are a number of solutions for businesses when it comes to reducing their food waste – they can limit their production at source and produce less food, there are composting services, anaerobic digestion, partnerships with farms and partnerships with someone like us to get the food to the people who need it,” she said. “But aside from source reduction and donation, all of these solutions often cost money, so it’s a new line item.

Springuel said that from an economic, social and environmental point of view, restaurants should look to donating food.

“We waste up to 40% of what we produce in this country, while simultaneously experiencing high rates of hunger in Massachusetts,” she said. “So we are working to solve one problem with another. We take excess food and give it to people who need it. A lot of food waste is really good food, and we’re working to get that food to the right people.

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Food Link is based in Arlington and serves the Greater Boston area. Springuel said the nonprofit supports banning MassDEP, and she believes it’s an “important incremental step towards reducing food waste,” and that “we need to build the infrastructure to support the waste reduction if a ban is going to succeed”.

“There are a variety of new companies emerging to tackle the problem of food waste, from technology to help grocery stores place more predictable orders, to composting services that will help grow something new from your waste, or in partnership with food donation organizations, so what might have ended up in a landfill can now feed those in need,” Springuel said.

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