On Organics: Food Waste’s Next Top ModelOn Organics: Food Waste’s Next Top Model
Replicable models will help drive greater diversion of food waste residuals.
December 11, 2013
Since this column began I have argued in favor of the utilization of food residuals through composting and anaerobic digestion (AD) instead of landfill disposal, which simply wastes a valuable resource. This growing trend is apparent in the number of cities and non-governmental organizations (NGO) adopting “zero waste” policies; the growing number of states mandating recycling at events; the involvement of universities, collegiate sports and professional sports leagues incorporating recycling and composting into stadium events; the growing number of compost facilities accepting food residuals; the addition of AD facilities to capture the energy component prior to composting; and traditional waste haulers embracing organics collection as part of these new opportunities.
But simply writing about how these programs and infrastructure can be developed won’t elevate the dismal 2-3 percent recycling rate of the nearly 35 million tons of food residuals generated in the United States (U.S. EPA estimates). It is critical to share methods of execution and model programs showing how and where food residuals recycling is working, providing a framework that can be adapted and employed by other governments, organizations and private firms.
In July 2012, the city of San Jose (Calif.) transformed its commercial waste management system into a public-private partnership for reducing commercial garbage. This effort moves San Jose closer to achieving its goal of zero waste by 2022 and showcases the development of facilities that provide significant environmental and economic benefits. The new system allows the city’s businesses to move from receiving service from multiple haulers to a single-hauler arrangement. These changes have nearly tripled the recycling rate of commercial solid waste and substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
This effort by San Jose serves as a model for how collaboration between various agencies can be effective. For this plan, there was a successful partnership between the city, Republic Services, and Zero Waste Energy Development Co. (ZWED) with extensive private infrastructure investment in San Jose. As part of this project, ZWED completed construction of the world’s largest commercial-scale dry fermentation AD facility on city-owned land with a unique lease structure between the city and ZWED. This is one of the projects that will be discussed in detail at the 2nd Annual Composting and Organics Conference at WasteExpo in Atlanta, April 2014. The presentation by Jo Zientek, deputy director of the Environmental Services Department for the city of San Jose, will include a discussion of their project and the process used for implementing the program as well as key challenges and solutions. Eric Herbert, CEO of ZWED, will discuss the infrastructure components including composting and AD facilities development and operation.
Meanwhile, the state of Massachusetts has proposed regulations to ban the disposal of commercial and institutional food residuals in landfills and incinerators beginning in 2014. This landmark legislation will require additional infrastructure to accommodate these organic feedstocks. At WasteExpo in Atlanta, Jay Kilbourn, vice president of Casella Organics, will discuss the progress Casella has made toward building organics collection and processing infrastructure in New England. Several other presenters will discuss developing organics recovery infrastructure throughout the country, presenting models and case studies of operational and in-development projects.
Stuart Buckner, Ph.D., is president of Buckner Environmental Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in organics management.