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Editorial: Food waste

The problem of commercial food waste should be unappetizing to all Americans.

As the Environmental Protection Agency says, “These leftovers are the single-largest component of the waste stream by weight in the United States ... costing some $1 billion annually for disposal.”

And, zeroing in on Massachusetts, “food waste and organics make up 20-25 percent of the current waste stream going to landfills and incinerators,” according to the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

That’s clearly a waste of money and a burden on our waste disposal system.

The Patrick administration has, therefore, proposed a plan whereby such leftovers would be taken out of the waste stream and put to good use. Instead of sending the waste to landfills or incinerators, the idea is to divert food waste to anaerobic digestion operations, composting operations, like Martin’s Farm Recycling in Greenfield or animal feed facilities.

“Banning commercial food waste and supporting the development of AD facilities across the commonwealth is critical to achieving our aggressive waste disposal reduction goals,” says Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan.

As part of the effort, $3 million in state low-interest loans will be available to companies that are building anaerobic digestion facilities, which take the waste and turn it into clean energy in the form of methane.

“Diverting food waste to AD facilities creates value by reducing the waste stream, tapping into the energy within food wastes, reducing greenhouse gases, and producing a byproduct that can be resold as fertilizer or animal bedding,” MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell said.

As the EPA puts it, “using food scraps as a resource rather than disposing of them in a landfill reflects cradle-to-cradle, closed loop approach.”

This is a significant first step in turning what is now waste into a benefit. And while the ban does not apply to food waste generated by households or other places that don’t generate at least one ton of organic waste per week, this could lead to smaller-scale efforts that homeowners and smaller places could embrace.

This is a smart answer to a problem. Let’s get it done.

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