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More states ban organic waste in landfills

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After a six-month program in which restaurants volunteered to keep commercial food waste out of landfills, New York City is planning to ban food scraps from hotels, hospitals and other large generators from being landfilled entirely. The city would join Northeastern states Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont, as well as West Coast cities Seattle, San Francisco and Portland, all of which have banned landfill disposal of food waste from large commercial food waste generators.

The New York City proposal made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in November 2013 would affect facilities generating more than one ton of food waste per week. It would require food waste to be collected and sent to a composting facility or to an anaerobic digester for conversion to energy. Bloomberg’s office said the bill would affect less than five percent of the city’s largest food waste generators. However, it would reportedly cover 30 percent of commercial organic waste, or more than 250,000 tons annually.

Connecticut was the first state to ban commercial food waste from landfills. In 2011, it passed a state law requiring generators of two or more tons of food waste per week to recycle the materials rather than sending them to a landfill if located within 20 miles of a suitable recycling facility.

In Vermont, a similar 2012 law also banned food waste from landfills. Like Connecticut, its law limited the ban to large generators located within 20 miles of a recycling facility. The Vermont law, however, gradually expanded coverage in a series of steps. Only commercial generators of two tons of food waste per week or more were required to comply at first. By 2020, however, all food waste will be banned from Vermont landfills.

In June 2013, Connecticut partially adopted Vermont’s graduated expansion approach. The state passed a new law that expanded coverage of its landfill food waste ban to facilities generating a ton of food waste per week, starting in 2020.

Massachusetts is the latest state to move to ban commercial food from landfills. In July 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection proposed requiring commercial food waste generators, defined as those producing a ton or more per week, to donate or re-purpose the food instead of sending it to the landfill. Any waste that could not be donated would have to be used for composting, anaerobic digesting or animal feed. That ban is set to take effect July 1, 2014.

Organizations that have been in New York City’s voluntary program described generally positive experiences. More than 100 restaurants took part in the Food Waste Challenge and reported diverting more than 2,500 tons of food waste from landfills over 6 months. The mayor’s office said more than 50 of the participants had achieved the goal of diverting 50 percent of food waste.

Herve Houdre, general manager at the InterContinental New York Barclay, said the hotel had diverted more than 70 percent of waste using on-site organic waste processing and other techniques. Overall, giving food away to non-profit nutrition programs was a key part of the initiative, as the city said more than 25 percent of the food waste diversion came through donations to food banks.

Melissa Autilio Fleischut, president and CEO of the New York State Restaurant Association lauded the program and indicated support for Bloomberg’s efforts. “The Food Waste Challenge proves that sending less to landfills is good for both business and the planet,” Fleischut said in a press release. “The New York State Restaurant Association looks forward to working with the city to advance this initiative in a responsible way that works for everyone.”

Officials of Yankee Stadium and JetBlue, as well as celebrity chef Mario Batali, also expressed support for diverting food waste. Stadiums and airports would be among the facilities affected by the expansion of the food waste reduction program.

New York City is working with startup software company MintScraps to create a cloud-based software program that will help restaurants, supermarkets and others monitor and track food waste streams. In addition to enabling users to visually identify wasteful locations, the app will create an online marketplace where businesses can post leftover food availability and non-profits and food banks can search for food to pick up.

MintScraps said the app can save restaurants money by reducing waste disposal fees and food purchasing costs and also provide benefits in the form of tax deductions for donated food. Users will enter data such as the amount of food waste generated, and the app will help them figure disposal costs and potential savings. Charts and graphs will help users track the amount of food waste sent to landfills as well as the quantity recycled and composted.

Ultimately, the app’s developers hope to replace manual data input with an automated system using sensor technology and color coded bags. The application will be made available free to participants in the Food Waste Challenge.

New York City’s Food Waste Challenge and the proposed ban on commercial food waste in landfills is part of the city’s goal of diverting 75 percent of all solid waste from landfills by 2030. Bloomberg’s term expired in January, but he said the success of the voluntary program suggests the city’s goal may be feasible for his successor, Bill de Blasio. In a statement, Bloomberg said, “New York City’s food industry has demonstrated that substantially cutting waste by diverting it to productive uses is not only possible, but achievable.”