Law would require food waste composting

Ron Cutting of Martin's Farm dumps a load of compost into a screening machine, a spinning perferated drum on a slight incline,  that seperates the impurities from the compost being piled up on the left in Greenfield on Tuesday. pf

Ron Cutting of Martin's Farm dumps a load of compost into a screening machine, a spinning perferated drum on a slight incline, that seperates the impurities from the compost being piled up on the left in Greenfield on Tuesday. pf

The state has proposed the nation’s first ban on disposal of commercial food waste from large restaurants and other institutions in an attempt to reduce the volume of compostable material that’s sent to landfills and incinerators.

The proposed ban, which would take effect next July 1, would require large generators of organic waste to “donate or re-purpose the usable food,” with the rest going to anaerobic digestion facilities, composting or animal-feed operations. Residential food waste is not included in the ban.

Because the rule would apply to those who generate a ton of organic waste per week, it would probably have little effect on most restaurants in Franklin County, which has mostly eateries that are relatively small, said Jan Ameen, executive director of the Franklin County Solid Waste Management District.

Many of the restaurants, supermarkets, schools and other large generators of food waste in the county are already involved in off-site composting programs.

“My sense is this would be a very limited initial group,” said Ameen. “I don’t think any one (restaurant) would come even close to that limit.”

This is the first step, going after big generators. “I don’t think there’s going to be many, if any, in our area. It’s when they start ratcheting down to smaller and smaller numbers that we’re going to get involved.”

Residential food waste is not included in the ban.

To harness the energy in organic waste, the Patrick administration has made $3 million in low-interest loans available to private companies building anaerobic digesters, similar to the methane digester proposed for Bar-Way Farm in Deerfield.

That $3 million project, which would combine the dairy farm’s annual output of roughly 2 million gallons of manure with an equal volume of food waste to produce electricity, similar to a methane digester that’s also planned for South Hadley and another one that’s already operating in Rutland. The state’s proposed ban should help convince bankers to underwrite the stalled projects, which are already in line to receive state and federal funding and tax credits, according to project consultant Bill Jorgenson.

“This will increase the odds of it happening,” he said.

Yet the state’s approach, said Ameen, is to issue regulations “hoping that if they ban it, that all of these facilities will pop up. Many of us are very concerned about organics capacity — there’s not a lot, and it’s very labor intensive and has to be really high-quality material.”

Many businesses in the region, as well as 15 of the 30 public schools in the 22-town solid waste district already have their organic waste hauled to Martin’s Farm in Deerfield or Clear View Composting in Orange. Deerfield Academy, Green Fields Market and Farren Care Center have long done off-site composting of their food waste.

Farren sends eight to 10 cubic yards of food waste, combined with cardboard, to Martin’s Farm every week, and has been doing so for more than eight years, said Randy Crochier, Farren’s director of nutrition services. In the end, it saves on solid waste hauling and disposal costs.

“Everywhere we have a rubbish barrel, we have a compost barrel,” said Crochier. “It’s real easy to do; it’s not difficult at all.”

Amy Donovan, the solid waste district’s program director, said that the state’s calculation of 1,500 pounds of waste as one cubic yard of waste is much heavier than what she sees in “real-life examples” like the five-restaurant Shelburne Falls Composting Collaborative, which sends 4 cubic yards of organic waste per week in summer to Martin’s Farm and half as much in winter.

“We’ve got the infrastructure here in Franklin County probably better than anybody else in the state, and we’re doing it, so it’s very possible,” Donovan said.

The state’s effort aims to divert nearly half of the roughly 1 million tons of organic material annually — including leaves and yard waste — from its landfills and incinerators. The effort, to avoid filling up lined landfills and giving off methane, one of the most problematic greenhouse gases, would gradually be extended to a residential ban by the end of the decade, environmental officials have said.

Food waste and organics make up 20 to 25 percent of the total that now goes to landfills and incinerators. The proposed food waste ban would help the state reach its goals to reduce the waste stream by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. To ensure that there will be sufficient facilities in Massachusetts to handle the waste resulting from the ban, state agencies are coordinating feasibility studies to build anaerobic digestion facilities on state-owned land.

Anaerobic digestion is a process that puts food and yard wastes, and other organics, into an enclosed chamber with no oxygen. Microbes inside the chamber break down the organics and produce a biogas that can produce electricity and heat. The electricity and heat is used in place of fossil fuels, reducing emissions.

You can reach Richie Davis at
or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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