Decades before Massachusetts’ food waste ban, and even before the state had any real infrastructure to divert food waste, nonprofit Center for EcoTechnology (CET) was trying to start a composting system there. It was providing free technical support and helping coordinate collections, focusing on supermarkets, and then moving on to more types of commercial generators to fill in truck routes.
Now CET runs a statewide business and institutional recycling and composting assistance program that’s funded by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), and it’s taking what it learned to grow infrastructure in other regions. It’s also broadened its focus beyond composting, honing in on food waste prevention.
It’s concentrating on other “food bans states,” including Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and California. And as New York explores similar legislation, CET has begun working with a state contractor there.
“We as an organization knew how to move the needle because of our experience in Massachusetts, and we thought we could help other regions accelerate the pace of change to get these programs and marketplace activities up to scale,” says Lorenzo Macaluso, director of client services for CET.
By 2010, the state where CET started had released its current 10-year solid waste management masterplan.
“We wanted to focus on reducing trash disposal, and the material at the top of our list is food waste,” says John Fischer, branch chief of commercial waste reduction for MassDEP. “We thought the best way to build infrastructure was to start with businesses. Businesses tend to be more consistent generators, producing the same waste daily. And we can collect large amounts in one place, so collections are more effective and easier to manage. Once we had that infrastructure, it became a little easier to deal with waste from smaller sources.”
By 2017, 2,123 commercial customers were contracting for food waste collection, up from 1,363 in 2014.
Now CET is moving forward without a funding model like the one in Massachusetts, though it has received grants, hoping to prove it can develop working programs without necessarily having full state backing.
As the organization that initially focused on composting expands geographically, it’s also broadening its service offerings, now looking beyond diversion.
“One thing we learned in Massachusetts is that foodservice businesses are interested in doing more food donation but are concerned about doing it safely and legally,” says Macaluso. “We were getting over 1,200 calls a year at our Recycling Works program call center from operations, many of whom were looking for information on reducing or preventing food waste in the first place.”
CET began talking to donors, rescue organizations and public health officials and built a consensus around best practices tied to food donation that fit within all parties’ operational and regulatory goals and requirements.
“As we move forward in the Northeast, our job is to engage solution providers and understand their customers and niche to address issues along the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] hierarchy. We are working to connect generators with fitting service providers,” says Macluso.
In New York, CET acts as a consultant to the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute (NYSP2I), which is in turn a consultant to the state, sharing information and best practices as NYSP2I formulates its strategy to support New York’s businesses and communities in diverting food waste.
“This partnership is especially valuable because of CET’s experience with food waste bans in other states,” says Charles Ruffing, director of the New York State Pollution Prevention Institute. “By not having to start from scratch, we can more efficiently support New York state efforts, taking advantage of the knowledge that CET has gained both in preparing waste generators for a ban and providing ongoing support to the food waste system [generators, haulers, recyclers] once a ban is in effect.”
Now Philadelphia has turned to CET to learn how to target food waste through its zero waste plan.
“In Philadelphia and some other regions, it won’t be as much direct matchmaking among service providers and generators as we have done. Rather, we will teach others how to increase capacity and meet their goals,” says Macaluso. “We think we can help in many areas around the country by advising and through information sharing with agencies or association groups. The idea is to give stakeholders tools so they can become the boots on the ground. We think of it as capacity building.”