I have been on the road a fair amount the past few months, mostly to give presentations on food waste management trends at various conferences. Earlier in the fall, I started the presentation by highlighting how, as a nation, we continue to dispose a large percentage of MSW in landfills, with food waste (by weight) being the largest category thrown away. I would also mention — in terms of realities impacting the organics recycling landscape — how several states rescinded their bans of landfilling yard trimmings, and how several more are considering similar actions.
That was pretty much the negative message in the talk. Then, I would move on to the positives, how the BioCycle community, unlike the more traditional solid waste communities, offers integrated solutions, especially when it comes to sustainability (see “Integrated Solutions,” October 2012). But last week, in a presentation at a conference titled “Reducing Food Waste Through Source Reduction,” held at Vermont Technical College in partnership with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and U.S. EPA Region 1, I realized it was time to change things up a bit.
The change was prompted for two main reasons. First, several weeks earlier, while participating on the closing panel of the Carolina Recycling Association’s 2012 Southeast Food Waste Reduction Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was struck by the range of entities represented on the stage. The panel included a food bank, a major supermarket chain, two composters, state and federal solid waste agencies and BioCycle. In response to a question to panelists about our major takeaways from the 2-day meeting, I remarked that what was so significant was the range of stakeholders on the panel, and that these people mirrored the range of participants at the conference. This was not the organics recycling or broader solid waste industry talking among ourselves. Instead, we were all part of a resource management network that includes food retailers, food rescue and food access organizations, processors and end users of the resources captured — whether as edible food or compost or biogas. In short, I noted last week, we are finding ourselves playing in a sandbox beyond waste management. This is a paradigm shift. This is exciting!
The other reason was more straightforward. In 2012, Vermont became the first state in the nation to ban landfill disposal of food waste (along with mandated recyclables and yard trimmings). Act 148 was signed into law by Governor Peter Shumlin in June. Bans of the material streams will be phased in, with recyclables in 2015 and leaves, grass and other yard trimmings in 2016. All food waste will be banned from disposal by 2020, but different sectors will have to comply in different years, e.g., generators producing more than 104 tons/year by 2014, followed by generators producing more than 52 tons/year in 2015.
And while Vermont is the first state in the U.S. to enact an organics disposal ban that includes food waste, Massachusetts is close behind. As discussed in an article starting on page 30 of this issue, “Massachusetts Sets The Table For An Organics Ban,” the state plans to enact a ban on disposal of commercial organics by 2014. This article explains amendments to the state’s solid waste rule to facilitate development of organics processing infrastructure.
These are positive signs as we head into 2013. It is not outrageous to predict that we have crossed the line into a new paradigm, where players beyond the BioCycle community have fully recognized the resources that heretofore have been thrown away as waste — whether that is edible food for humans, food for the soil, food to generate renewable energy, etc. Behaviors and mindsets are changing, in a positive way. We no longer are only singing to the choir. We are singing to the community.