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Need to Know

The Monopolization of the Waste Industry


The waste industry is driven by a handful of companies. The monopolization of the industry has created economic costs with local communities as well as the environment.

Local and state governments have the ability to create a sustainable waste system that is not tied to mega corporations, encourages competition and empowers local recycling and composting capacity by promoting public landfills; encouraging locally owned and mission-driven companies; promoting competition; mandating organic waste diversion; adopting composting; developing grant programs; instituting bottle bills; creating a comprehensive municipal solid waste strategy; and providing community education.

For example, in San Jose, CA, the state broke up a landfill monopoly and used the savings generated by increased competition to restructure its solid waste system to emphasize recycling.

Read the original story here.

Women Leaders in Waste: Celebrating Kathy Trent of Waste Management


Before taking a deep dive into rule packages sent over from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kathy Trent, a government affairs director for Waste Management, took some time to reflect on her career in the solid waste industry that spans more than 30 years and earned her a spot in the National Waste and Recycling Association (NWRA) 2020 Hall of Fame.

In 1981, equipped with an undergraduate degree in environmental studies and a master’s degree in environmental science, Trent was looking for a job where she could truly protect the environment.

“I really wanted to work in the environmental field and so I had done, this is crazy, but I had done a paper on the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act which was about waste and I thought that was just a great thing, to put forward a future of environmental protection,” said Trent. “So when the company [Waste Management] was looking for an environmental specialist I thought, well this would be great, I can work in the waste industry.”

Besides a brief period in the early 1980’s when she went to work for a consulting firm due to a move to a new city, Trent has called Waste Management her home.

“From day one the company really had a strong commitment to protect the environment and the communities where we have our facilities located and so it really is a great marriage of wanting to protect the environment and having the opportunity to do so, really at the ground level,” said Trent.

And she hit the ground running.

“In the early 1980’s, all of the subtitle D regulations implementing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act for landfills requiring facilities to submit permits and states to adopt regulations, so I began to work on those permit applications and following the state’s regulations. As a result I then did a lot of the groundwater monitoring work, special waste analysis, and a lot of the policies and procedures the company put in place to make sure we were in compliance just became a part of my everyday role. But by the mid-to-late 1980s, a lot of the state’s legislatures got involved with passing updates to state laws and regulations and that’s where I started to work in the legislative government affairs arena because I had done the regulatory work and the permitting work. It became very easy then for me, and appropriate for me, to work in the legislative process,” said Trent.

Trent’s responsibilities grew to include public affairs and she became involved with the Ohio Chapter of the NWRA which she now chairs and she’s a founding member of the NWRA Women’s Council.

“I do a lot of regulatory reviews making sure that the regulations that are proposed are really accommodating to our operations and I do a lot of work with other industry members,” she said.

“As the Ohio Chapter Chair of the NWRA I have the opportunity to work with a lot of colleagues with the other companies, both engineers and operations folks, and that allows us to really provide, in partnership with Ohio EPA, comments on regulations that really make them much more effective both in terms of protecting the environment but also on how we can operate with the rules,” said Trent. “So, I really ended up doing that as well as day-to-day activities with legislature whether it's a proposed bill or initiative or trying to communicate to the legislature what activities the industry would like to accomplish.”

One of those accomplishments includes the Slow Down to Get Around piece of legislature that was passed in 2017, she said.

“We did that alongside other industry members as well as the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) and NWRA so it really was a partnership trying to make sure the legislature understood how to make it safer for drivers when people pass our drivers along the road, so that was really a great initiative,” said Trent.

Trent’s work has also helped Ohio regulate construction demolition debris and she’s done a lot of work with the solid waste districts in Ohio.

“A lot of the regulations come from legislation and over the years I’ve seen the state of Ohio pass legislation to better regulate construction and demolition (C&D) debris disposal as well as processing of C&D materials so I, on behalf of the industry, was working among colleagues and in partnership with the Ohio EPA, we really pushed forward to update the Ohio laws to regulate construction demolition debris as well as the recycling of the material so I was pretty happy to see that accomplished,” she said.

“I've also done a lot of work with the solid waste districts in Ohio as well as Ohio EPA on the state solid waste management goals both in terms of waste reduction and recycling. So I feel pretty proud of the fact that Ohio has a very comprehensive solid waste management plan that I’ve seen a lot of good work coming from our partnership with the solid waste districts and how it’s implemented through the years. So I'm pretty proud of those two main things,” said Trent.

Currently, Trent is working on three or four rule packages on a wide variety of topics that the Ohio EPA is trying to update—construction demolition debris processing, municipal solid waste landfill regulations, solid waste district rules.

“So I really have a lot of different rule update packages that I'm working on,” she said. Trent works alongside consultants and industry members as well as engineers and people in the field so they can try to put together the best possible suggestions.

“It’s also nice to work with Ohio EPA because they really have a concept of working together as a partner and so they really do want to listen to how to make the rules effective and protective but they really also like to make sure that they makes sense. So, they traditionally do a lot of outreach to the industry to just see what we think and it's usually a long process on these rulemaking efforts but again, I hate to say it, but I do enjoy it.”

With any of the work that she’s done, whether at Waste Management, with the NWRA or with SWANA, Trent said she has really tried to promote and assure there are environmental education opportunities in the state.

“Sometimes we put together conferences where we can get together and have expert speakers. I just feel that that has given us a great opportunity to collectively work together to accomplish things so I’m a high believer in giving educational opportunities not only to the industry but sharing that and learning together,” she said.

As a founding member of the NWRA Women’s Council, Trent is able follow through on promoting and expanding environmental education opportunities.

“That really began in the early 2000s where we really wanted to have a giveback to industry and trying to promote educational opportunities,” she said.

“One of the things that I worked on over the years is their scholarship program where we have raised funds for variety of needs and those funds are given back in terms of scholarships either to graduating high school family members, family members going on to college, or people working in the industry that are going back to school and so I’m pretty proud of the fact that we‘ve raise significant dollars and have given many scholarships over the years.”

According to the NWRA website, since 2007, more than $200,000 has been awarded to 48 students. The Women’s Council has raised money through its “Where does my garbage go?” coloring book, its boutique at WasteExpo and the internship toolkit.

“This is a toolkit that helps guide them and their development of it as well as documentation for that intern  to take back to their school to document what they’ve learned and how they done it, so we're always coming up with new ideas,” she said. “I’ve met some great women on that council.”

For someone who has worked at the same company in the same industry for 30 years, Trent can still say she’s seen a lot of change.

“I think the main thing that the industry has done extremely well and again I’ve seen this inside Waste Management, is we have a very strong foundation of our commitment to protecting the environment as well as putting people first. You see the technology develop whether it's landfill technology with liners and leachate collection systems, to trucks that have technology on board to help the driver, to the facility of the future that will be run by a lot more computers, so I do see the technology changing the industry but the foundation of how we do it safely and a commitment to the environment has not changed,” said Trent.

“Environmental compliance and making sure we do things the right way is really how we do it at Waste Management and I think the industry does that to a great deal also so my expectation was I wanted to protect the environment and I honestly feel like I’ve had the opportunity to do that,” she said.

So when Trent learned she was going to be inducted into the 2020 NWRA Hall of Fame, she was surprised.

“It really meant the world to me because traditionally, most of the Hall of Fame recipients, you know, may have started the company or developed a piece of equipment—the captains of the industry,” she said. “So to be nominated and chosen when primarily my role for the industry has been advocacy in the states that I work in, I was just really touched by that acknowledgement and I can’t tell you how I’ve appreciated the opportunity over the years to work alongside the other industry members and for Waste Management to give me the time to do that—it really meant the world.”

And for anyone thinking of entering the waste industry or are just starting out, Trent said to be appreciative of the opportunity because it is a family.

“You’ll meet some great individuals that do amazing things so don’t sit back, don’t wait for people to come to you. Get involved. Get involved with the associations, committees, the chapters. Ask a lot of questions. Be yourself. Be kind and I think that will serve you well.”

As for Trent’s future? She’s looking forward to continuing the work she loves, protecting the environment and bringing her family to WasteExpo to receive her NWRA Hall of Fame plaque.

Need to Know

Waste Pro Acquires AmeriSouth Business in Atlanta


ATLANTA, GA – July 21, 2020 – Waste Pro has acquired AmeriSouth Recycling’s business in the Atlanta, GA area.

The arrangement, which got underway in June 2020, expands the Atlanta Materials Recovery Facility’s (MRF) industrial customer base. As part of the arrangement, AmeriSouth’s Atlanta site has closed and all business will now be based out of Waste Pro’s MRF in Atlanta. Industrial recycling – most of which is corrugated cardboard – will now be collected and processed by Waste Pro.

“This allows us to be a full-service company for all the recycling needs of industrial businesses in the Atlanta market,” said Waste Pro’s Vice President of Recycling, Will Howard. “Our MRF can take any recyclable materials companies may have – baled or loose, delivered or picked up. We can do it all.”

About Waste Pro USA

Waste Pro USA, Inc. is one of the country’s fastest growing privately-owned waste collection, recycling, processing and disposal companies, operating in ten southeastern states. Waste Pro, with revenues exceeding $700 million, serves more than two million residential and 40,000 commercial customers from over 75 operating locations. Waste Pro is headquartered in Longwood, Florida, and maintains approximately 300 exclusive municipal contracts and franchises.


Media Contact:
Ron Pecora
Chief Marketing Officer

[email protected]

Study: Medwaste Market Poised for Fast Growth


The medical waste management market is set to grow from its 2019 value of $9.5 billion to $16.5 billion by 2026, according to a new research report by Global Market Insights.

The global medical waste management sector will observe heavy growth in the next six years due to the growing need for effective, efficient medical waste management services, according to the 235-page study. Newly introduced treatment options and therapies for various diseases will also play pivotal roles in the market expansion.

In addition, the rapidly increasing amount of coronavirus-related medical waste is creating a tremendous need for effective medical waste handling and disposal services. This trend is projected to provide significant growth impetus for the market, according to the study.


In regard to individual market segments, hazardous waste, which accounted for a greater than 20% industry share in 2019, is expected to experience increased demand due to a growing need for the proper handling and disposal of waste contaminated by body fluids and other infectious material.

And the demand for the management of sharps waste — syringes, needles, surgical instruments, lancets, scalpels, culture dishes, glassware — is also expected to rise sharply over the next six years, according to the study.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Laboratories and research centers accounted for approximately 35% of the overall industry share in 2019.
  • China, Japan and India have inadequate medical waste treatment facilities, which is causing increased demand for medical waste management services in those nations.
  • China generates about 650,000 tons of medical waste annually, and that volume is expected to accelerate due to the impact of COVID-19.

Read a summary of Global Market Insights’ medical waste market research report here.

Need to Know

Printing Food to Prevent Waste

Mashable Printing-Food-to-Prevent-Waste.png

Globally, one third of the food produced each year goes to waste (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations).

Dutch designer, Elzelinde van Doleweerd wanted to prevent food waste. What started as a university project has now morphed into a company called Upprinting Food in conjunction with Vita Broeken.

How does it work? Recipes are created from leftovers or food that is considered too ugly to eat. After printing, the food is baked to ensure it is safe to consume and store for a long period of time.hese gorgeous 3D-printed snacks are made from f

Watch the original video here

Need to Know

AI Tapped to Solve Waste on Earth and in Space


Artificial intelligence, known as AI, is the marriage of different technologies designed to solve real-world problems. Four companies are using AI to answer problems related to waste management, space junk and food management.

Greyparrot is devoted to “using AI-powered computer vision software to increase transparency and automation in recycling.” The company highlights inefficiencies in sorting and waste facilities. Its technology “automatically identifies different types of waste, providing composition information and analytics to help facilities increase recycling rates.”

With 129 million pieces of debris hurtling around Earth, space junk is a worry for scientists. StartRocket is removing debris with a satellite called Foam Debris Catcher.

Approximately 1.3 billion of food is lost or wasted each year. Winnow Solutions uses AI to identify and weigh food waste in commercial kitchens. And Wasteless has created a dynamic pricing algorithm for perishable products and tracks an item’s price in real-time and adjusts it based on its expiration date.

Read the original story here.

Need to Know

City of Ann Arbor Contracts with Ann Arbor Mission-Based Non-Profit to Rebuild Local Materials Recovery Facility

mlive.com Ann-Harbor-Material-Recycling.png

July 21st, 2020, Ann Arbor, MI. - Recycle Ann Arbor is pleased that the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously approved the lease and operating agreement to redevelop the Ann Arbor materials recovery facility– an important step toward revitalizing Ann Arbor’s recycling program and aligning with the city’s goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. 

“Local processing of recyclables brings a range of environmental, economic, and social benefits,” says Bryan Ukena, Recycle Ann Arbor CEO. “Reopening the MRF will enhance the environmental value of Ann Arbor’s recycling program and help the City meet its ambitious sustainability goals, save taxpayers and the City an estimated 250K to 550K annually, generate up to 20 good union jobs, and create a regional hub that will allow recycling to flourish in other communities that have been forced to cut back or eliminate their collection programs.” 

The contract between RAA and the City of Ann Arbor includes 10-year MRF Operations and a 10-year MRF Lease, including a Bill of Sale of any existing equipment at the MRF that will be refurbished and reused alongside new state-of-the-art equipment. RAA believes this model optimizes stability and flexibility to the City for handling its recycling materials and reaching its sustainability goals.  

The MRF rebuilding will be supported by a grant of $800,000 awarded by the State of Michigan Recycling Program to Recycle Ann Arbor to support increased recycling capacity in the region. The state run program seeks to increase infrastructure and recycling capacity across the state to double our recycling diversion rate.  

Construction on the MRF is expected to begin August 3rd, 2020 and be completed approximately 12 months later. While the MRF is under construction, Recycle Ann Arbor will continue to haul recyclables to an outside facility for sorting. Recycle Ann Arbor has partnered with Machinex, an industry expert manufacturer of recycling equipment, to engineer state-of-the-art equipment to allow the facility to reach the highest recovery rate possible. The new facility will be able to sort glass to market it to fiberglass and glass container manufacturers–a benefit that many material recovery facilities lack. 

“Our zero waste mission drives us to seek out the best possible end markets, those that are recovering the highest percentage of materials to the highest and best use,” says Ukena. “We also believe in transparency and actively educate the community on best practices. Zero waste education, transparency, and mission-based decisions differentiate us from large corporations that answer to shareholders or owners, not the communities in which they operate.” 

Combining a cutting-edge facility with a community-focused zero-waste mission distinguishes the promising future of Ann Arbor’s recycling program at a moment when the U.S. recycling industry at large finds itself beleaguered.

“National recycling markets are in shambles in part because of sloppy, questionable practices by some of the nation’s largest trash and recycling companies,” says Suzanne Jones, Executive Director of Eco-Cycle in Boulder, CO. “Nonprofit operators have always prioritized strong community education programs that lead to clean incoming recycling streams, domestic markets that create U.S. jobs and provide greater accountability and fair working conditions. Our programs show that recycling does work, but only when it is done under the right conditions. Increasingly, cities and haulers around the country are coming back to the tried and true practices of RAA, Eco-Cycle and other mission driven organizations.”

“The MRF redevelopment is vitally important for recycling capacity in this region,” says Ukena. “Profits are reinvested in the local community, increasing reuse, providing for construction/demolition waste recovery, offering recycling education programs, and creating other cutting-edge zero waste programs for our community.”

With its partners at the City of Ann Arbor, Recycle Ann Arbor is exploring how Ann Arbor's restored MRF might also demonstrate green building, clean energy, and zero waste through potential solar energy, electric fueling stations, and energy-efficient lighting, for the purpose of furthering the City of Ann Arbor's goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. 


Erica Bertram 
Communications Director
Recycle Ann Arbor 
cell 734-834-1581


Episode 68: Exploring Hunger, Waste & Covid’s Impact on the Food Chain (Transcript)


[00:00:00] Liz Bothwell: Hi everyone, welcome to Waste360's NothingWasted! Podcast. On every episode, we invite the most interesting people in waste recycling and organics to sit down with us and chat candidly about their thoughts, their work, this unique industry and so much more. Thanks for listening and enjoy this episode.


[00:00:25] Liz: Hi, everyone. This is Liz Bothwell from Waste360 with Emily Broad Leib, Clinical Professor at Harvard Law School and Director of Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic. Hi, Emily, thanks for being on the show today.

[00:00:39] Emily Broad Leib: Hi, thanks for having me.

[00:00:40] Liz: Emily, we normally start in the beginning, so please tell us a little bit about your background and how you found your way to the world of food law.

[00:00:49] Emily: I'll tell you first what the Food Law and Policy Clinic does, we're a service-learning program at Harvard Law School which means that the service component is that we work with clients who are either non-profits, businesses, government agencies, trying to either better understand the laws around a food issue, or to strengthen those laws. We have students involved in learning about this and in every aspect of the work so that they are able to then go out and continue working in this field.

My clinic is the first clinic in the country that focuses solely on food law policy, although there are now several peer clinics. The way that I found myself in this work was that I spent some time, after law school, working on the ground in rural Mississippi and I got really interested in some questions that were coming up about food access challenges in the community, also burgeoning local food movement, and a lot of food producers really wanting to understand the laws about selling their food.

I realized that this is just such an interesting area that impacts so much of our daily life. Impacts the workers in the food system, consumers, the environment. I'd also say that it's a really fun and great area to work in.

[00:02:15] Liz: That's amazing. What an accomplishment. You were the one that launched the first law school clinic, right?

[00:02:21] Emily: Yes.

[00:02:22] Liz: How has that changed since the initial launch? Has it become what you dreamt it would be?

[00:02:28] Emily: That's actually a hard question to answer. In the beginning, I didn't know all that was possible, so I guess the answer is that it's exceeded my dreams. For a while, the clinic was with just me and a bunch of really dedicated students and now, we have such an amazing team. There are four other attorneys on the team, and we have some administrative staff who do awesome work with communications, et cetera.

One of our biggest areas now, which I know we'll talk about, is around reducing food waste and supporting food recovery. That wasn't on my radar at the very start of the clinic, so that's been a really fascinating area to dig into. Also, we've been doing more federal work.

Early on, I was very focused on state and local food laws, and then I've gotten to do more federal work. Just in the past few years, we've been doing a lot more global work, realizing and recognizing that we have so much to learn from other countries, that we have things to share. Also, our food is in such a global system that really focusing only domestically, misses a lot of that important picture. It's been growing in all these different ways that I couldn't have predicted at the beginning.

[00:03:48] Liz: That's amazing. Let's talk COVID-19. You've shared so much great knowledge around how the global pandemic has affected the food system and, of course, the people who are most vulnerable. How is it looking now, compared to where we were in March? Can you talk a little bit about where it stands?

[00:04:09] Emily: Yes. I think one of the big things that have been challenging is, for so many people, realizing how long-term both, the illness itself, the impacts that it will have on our society, but also the shutdown. In terms of concrete changes that we're seeing, I think one big one has been that, in the immediate time, when COVID-19 was sweeping through the US and many countries, and there were shutdowns, we saw a lot of food wasted at that moment.

I think we have done some good work in trying to make some transitions in the food supply. Things like distributors that primarily work with farmers selling to restaurants and hospitality sectors have made some adjustments to try to get that food to retail. Policy has allowed that to happen. We've seen response from USDA with things like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.

A big piece of that is paying distributors to purchase food from farmers that would otherwise be wasted and get it distributed through non-profits to people in need. But I think there's been some pervasive challenges that have continued to grow in the food system. One of the big ones is just the continued high rates of COVID-19 illness amongst farm workers, workers in food processing, particularly the meat sector and in grocery stores. I think that these are problems that are going to continue because we haven't really figured out how to address them yet.

The impact on food of course is, very much, the kind of personal health impact for those individuals and their families, but then also, these impact our ability to bring food from production through to market. Some things we're doing well, some things that are continuing to be problems. I think that, on the whole, the other big challenge is that at the same time that we're still seeing a lot of food wasted, the number of people who are facing food insecurity has gone up and up.

I saw some data, at the end of 2019 in the US, for example, we had about 11% of the population was food insecure and now estimates put that as high as 38% of people saying that they're not sure if they're going to be able to provide their next meal, or provide all the meals they need within the next few months. Globally, the UN has reported that food insecurity and hunger might double due to COVID-19.

[00:06:48] Liz: Wow. Those numbers are staggering.

[00:06:51] Emily: Yes. For all of these reasons, things shutting down, job loss, even as things begin to reopen, and I think business owners see that reopening isn't necessarily bringing a flood of people in the door, we'll continue to see those layoffs and that impact, so we'll have some work to do. Both in terms of supporting social protection, generally and unemployment, production, et cetera, but quite specifically in the food system, too.

[00:07:25] Liz: Absolutely. What are you seeing on the commercial food waste side? I know that that bottomed out, is that coming back at all?

[00:07:34] Emily: I don't have great data on that yet. I think one of the challenges is that the reopening plans have been so spotty, particularly domestically from place to place, so I think that there's still, to me, a big question mark in what we're seeing, as far as where businesses are able to really bring things back to capacity.

Certainly, with restaurants and other commercial enterprises, if there are density restrictions to try to reduce the number of people in buildings at any time, then I think it's challenging for businesses when they know how to order to provide food for a certain number of customers, and then not being able to really predict what that amount will be. I think we'll see, even as things start to scale up, that they'll be two steps forward, one step back.

[00:08:27] Liz: Definitely. You mentioned the farmers briefly, but have they fared better or worse than expected, do you think?

[00:08:34] Emily: That's a tough question, actually. I think the best way to answer the question is that farmers have just faced a lot of challenges, both in terms of supply chains being down and even if things start to pick up again, I think it's really hard for farmers who have to start producing crops months before they need to be at market. I think that it made things really difficult and predictable for them. We're seeing, even now, a lot of outbreaks amongst farmworkers.

I don't know where that will lead us, but if it ends up with shutdowns of farming operations, or needing to reduce the number of people in fields at given times, I think all of these things are really going to impact how much food ends up getting wasted in the fields and, ultimately, take home, pay, and viability of farms.

[00:09:34] Liz: Definitely. You've talked a lot about food workers, do you think COVID has helped show the world how important they are? Even more so than we thought before?

[00:09:47] Emily: I think that's definitely true. Often, workers in the food chain are just invisible. I think people don't think about where this food came from and what are all the hands that had to be working in the fields, or in processing, or in grocery stores stocking shelves. This has become a lot more visible. So far, besides it being visible and being on people's radar, I don't think that we've seen measurable changes that align with that, particularly at the federal level.

One of the issues that we've seen was that OSHA, for example, within the department of labor, they are the ones that are called in to address worker safety and health challenges. There's been a huge increase in requests for OSHA to investigate reports, but they've declined in many cases and haven't had the capacity to really investigate. That's been disappointing.

I think a lot of people were talking about the executive order now, several weeks back, that the president put out asking USDA to ensure that food production, particularly meat processing, stays open. The way that that was framed was really about, "We need to keep processing plants open to maintain the food supply for the American consumers." You could have framed that a really different way. It could have been framed that the president is giving the authority to the department of labor to ensure the safety of workers, meaning that without safe and healthy workers, we can't continue to make sure that there is food.

Even the framing of that, to me, put a lot of the focus on consumers and not as much on the workers. My hope is that now that it's more in the public consciousness, and more in the media, that we'll see a policy change follow from that and that more Americans will push for that. But so far, I don't think that's what we've seen really in the policy decisions.

[00:11:52] Liz: That makes sense. Do you think there'll be any long-term changes that stay as a result of the pandemic around food, policy, and the food chain?

[00:12:05] Emily: This is the $50 million question. I think that changes will remain. I don't know yet what they will be. We've been on our own, we're doing a bunch of things to try to track those changes, so we've posted on our website a tracker of state policies that we're looking at on two different issues. One was really around the way that shutdown orders impacted and addressed food, both food production, food distribution, food banks, et cetera. We also have been tracking state policies to get food to vulnerable, or marginalized households and individuals, so we're looking at those.

I think at the federal level we've seen a lot of efforts on the part-- particularly of the USDA, to put in place different waivers that make it easy to serve children in schools that have been closed or to increase snap enrollment. My hope is, and a lot of people are pushing for some of these to change and to be more permanent.

As one example, a lot of states have now gotten authorization from USDA to operate a program called Pandemic EBT, which allows schools to send households with children a little card that they can use to purchase food at retail when schools closed, under the assumption and the fact that many children get a lot of their food each day from school. When schools are closed they need some funds to support them obtaining those meals.

There's been a big push to say, "Well, we could just send these cards out at the beginning of the year to all students, then if there's closures due to the pandemic, or even due to snow days, or hurricanes, or wildfires, then we don't have to worry that, at that time, children aren't receiving their meals. We can just automatically put funding onto those cards." I think that's a small example, but I do think that there will be some changes that come from this. I think there's, us included, a lot of folks out there that are trying to figure out what those should be, and what we should be pushing for to make the food system more sound and more resilient.

[00:14:21] Liz: Definitely. I hope a lot of good comes from that. I also know that you work closely with a lot of the donation organizations and that you do a great job tracking data. How are those organizations faring now that we're a few months in? Like Feeding America and those organizations. How are they doing?

[00:14:46] Emily: These organizations that are on the front lines trying to address the shifting landscape and the increased need, they are working so hard. I am in complete awe of the non-profit organizations like Feeding America, many of the local partners we've worked with, Boston Area Gleaners, Daily Table, 412 Food Rescue, et cetera, are just working around the clock to try to meet the growing need on both the food waste and food recovery side, and on the hunger and food insecurity side.

One thing that we did is we conducted a survey with partners of ours at the Global FoodBanking Network. This is more at the national level, but we looked at across different countries and we collaborated with them to serve a FoodBank Network. They were able to survey food banks in 45 countries and we were able to get a sense from that just how this looks globally.

I can tell you a little bit from that, but I think what we saw, this maybe isn't that surprising, was that a hundred percent or food banks, globally, reported a huge spike in demand since the outbreak of COVID-19. Half of the food banks said that there had a more than 50% increase in demand and a third of them said that there was nearly a doubling of demand. For example, Feeding America here in the US said they had a 59% increase in demand for provision of food. The users that are now showing up to food banks, to their pantries, soup kitchens, and other agencies, 40% of those people who are showing up are using food bank services for the first time ever. Just to paint a picture of the amount of change that we're seeing here in the US and how that compares globally.

The rest of that project went on to make some suggestions of how governments are handling this well and can really partner effectively with food banks. Though there's a lot more we can do in this country, we found the US is one of the strongest countries, in terms of the way that we put in place things like increased money for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and also the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, which is new, to drive more food and more dollars to food banks and food recovery organizations.

[00:17:27] Liz: That's good to hear. I know there's a lot more work to do and I know you'll be following. I'm as impressed as you are with these organizations. It's amazing. I hadn't heard those numbers before, so they're staggering that they've been able to keep up with that, keep people fed, and handle the food waste like they have. I want to just tailor the conversation a little bit now to climate change.

I know that you did an award-winning project called Reducing Food Waste as a Key to Addressing Climate Change, can you tell us a little bit about that work, your award, and where that all stands now?

[00:18:09] Emily: Yes. It's actually a pretty amazing grant program that Harvard University put out. It was a couple of years ago now, I think we got the funding first about four or five years ago. The idea behind this grant is really to fund and see different initiatives and projects around Harvard University that have potential to translate academic work into real, either inventions, or developments, or network, whatever translate the research into practice and into real-world impact.

The funding that we got from that was actually the first funding that we ever had for the work we've done on food waste. What’s fun was lot of the projects that you do know about, or that we've talked about, but it allowed us to scale up all of the things that we were doing domestically, to really understand better the way that law and policy impacts food waste.

For example, one of the big ways that we use that support has been work that we've done in states across the country. In one piece that I worked, has been providing state agencies with guidance documents for businesses about how to donate food. We've done that now in more than a dozen states. We have them all on our website, but the most recent state we worked on was Michigan. If you're in Michigan and you're a business that wants to donate, here's the liability protection that exists under federal law that you're eligible for and also, what the specifics are of Michigan law.

Liability protection is a good example where there's amazing federal protection that's really intended to comfort and provide an incentive for businesses to donate food, but states can even go above that and offer protection that may support different, innovative models. Things like supporting non-profits that maybe have a non-profit retail model where they sell donated food at a low price. Those things.

Here in Massachusetts, we work really closely with the Department of Environmental Protection. when Massachusetts first enacted its organic waste ban, I think the state started getting a lot more questions about different methods of food recovery. One of the areas was a lot more questions about compost, then the rules and best practices for composting. We weren't involved in that project, but the state worked with the Center for Ecotechnology to put out guidance on that. Then, they started getting a lot of questions about donation, and we partnered with them to help put out best practices that included both the legal side, but also what are the right ways to handle food for donations.

A lot of the funding went to support our ability to work hands-on with more states. Also, with scaling up some of the work that we've been doing, certainly on date labeling, which at the time that we first got the award we had just done our initial research to show that date labels really were misleading and were leading to a lot of waste. It really supported our ability to go deeper on what would it look like to have a better policy, and I'm working with industry on putting that out.

We'll really credit this funding from Harvard with allowing us to take a piece that had been a small area of our work, and really scale it up to all the areas that we've been able to cover and work on now. Beyond the liability and date labels, it supported our research, and understanding about the tax incentives that are given to food donors, which was at that time a new area that we'd been wanting to get involved in. It really helped us to just have the support and look into all of these.

We know that food waste is a huge contributor to climate change, the UN, The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that eight to 10% percent of global greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change come from food waste. Anything that we can do to make systems changes that reduce waste will have a beneficial impact on our climate.

[00:22:43] Liz: Definitely. You mentioned Massachusetts organic span, do you think states are starting to put the infrastructure in place to be able to handle food waste properly? I know that's been an issue because New Jersey just did this as well. A couple of issues that they mentioned, one, education. Then, number two is they don't have the infrastructure to handle what's coming down the road through 2022. Right now they can, but not based on where it's going and what the law will do.

[00:23:17] Emily: I think we're definitely seeing more states and localities starting the considerations of organic waste bans. I think most of them realize that at the time that a waste ban has passed, they don't have the capacity to really handle that food waste, whether it's through donation, or through composting or anaerobic digestion. The policy itself is a great way to signal to industry that there's going to be some market opportunity in that space. I think that the idea for all of these states that have passed these is to start a long runway two, three, four years between when the laws enacted, and then when there will actually be penalties for food waste.

In many cases, supply some of the seed funding for development of the facilities, like startup for 80 facilities or things like that. I think that's what we're seeing. It's an interesting time. I think in a lot of ways, COVID-19 has put a damper on some of the movement we saw on organic waste bans or waste diversion requirements because among the many things that are most front and center for people right now, I think that this ends up falling to the back.

First, there's obviously a big focus on getting food donated, but less on going after people and putting penalties in place. Also, as more people are working remotely, it makes it really difficult to do the inspections that would be needed to actually see if some of these laws are being properly implemented. There's been a little bit of a slowdown, I think, on that space. But I will say we put out a pretty lengthy toolkit last summer that was really about the ins and outs of all of the organic waste bans that we've seen in the US, and it describes what they entail, how they differ from one another, some of the best practices.

Then, we have some checklists in there for what cities or states could actually do if they wanted to implement their own waste bans. Here's the checklist for the considerations that you need to think about in terms of who's covered, who's exempt, what penalties you'll have, and all of those things. Because these policies have been really the most impactful and transformative, my hope is really that it will pick up again. I think there's been a relaxation of environmental penalties at the federal level, certainly, and at all levels of government during COVID-19.

One thing I want to mention, I don't know if you want to talk at all about our Global Food Donation Policy Atlas that we just put out, but one of the areas that we have been tracking also across countries now is-- we're tracking six different areas of law, one of them is around waste bans and donation requirements. What we saw was that most of the countries it's pretty rare still to have those at the federal level, but there's been more and more uptake of these in states and provinces. In all of North America, really, we're seeing municipal or provincial level organic waste bans or donation requirements, and I think we'll just continue to see that spread.

[00:26:50] Liz: I bet. Is there anything else you want to share about that?

[00:26:53] Emily: Let's see, the last year and a half we've been working with the Global FoodBanking Network. They approached us and asked us to help with analyzing and comparing laws on food donation across countries. The genesis of this was really that, as food donation is growing, as concerns about food waste are growing, there's obviously a lot of reasons that food is wasted.

One of the big ones is that policies, and laws, and the government plays a really big role in how much food ends up going to waste versus being diverted. With the help of Global FoodBanking Network we selected 15 countries, we had a strong focus on Latin America for the first few years, but then made sure that we're including at least one other country in each region of the world. We just launched in June the website that has all of the materials and the maps for the first five countries. That right now includes the US, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, and India.

What you can do on the website is, for each country there's a written legal guide, recommendations, and an executive summary that I think is, probably, a good starting point for any users of the site. There's also a map. In the map you can pick any of these areas of law that we, from our research, realized were really the key areas that impact whether food is donated or not. Those are food safety laws around donation, date labeling rules, liability protections for food donations, tax incentives or barriers. In some countries, there's actually barriers in their tax law that make it costly to donate. Donation requirements or food waste penalties. Then, lastly, government grants or other government support of food donation.

On the website, you can actually compare those, and by now zooming out across countries we were able to really flag what are strong policies versus weak policies. You can use it to see which countries have some of the best policies on these and make some decisions about where other countries can begin to learn or think about the laws that they have on the book. It's been really exciting, actually, I was presenting on it today. We've been getting this amazing feedback. Just really excited about the tool.

[00:29:29] Liz: That sounds amazing. We'll make sure to put the website in the notes so that people can check out the Atlas on their own and on your site, that would be great.

[00:29:39] Emily: Perfect, that's great. Thank you.

[00:29:40] Liz: What an undertaking [laughs]

[00:29:43] Emily: Yes, my God. It's been amazing, it's been a lot of work. I feel really lucky to be working on this because we've really learned so much. Over the few years I've had, not only myself and four different members of my staff, but we've had 20 students across the few years that have worked on some of the different country research and have gotten to go, and travel, and learn. It's been a big undertaking, but also has contributed to a lot of learning and knowledge that we're excited to share.

[00:30:21] Liz: That's great, so rewarding. Congratulations, that's awesome.

[00:30:24] Emily: Yes. Thank you.

[00:30:26] Liz: We're hearing more and more about upcycled food, we're friendly with the Upcycled Food Association. Can you tell us your thoughts about that for people who don't know? Are you able to explain what that is?

[00:30:40] Emily: One of the things we've worked on this year that has been really interesting was we supported work of both the Upcycled of Food Association, but also this organization task force. The idea behind it was really that as upcycled is growing, it has become something that more consumers are learning about, knowing about, and prioritizing. There's really an opportunity to define the term, both to make sure that businesses that are advertising their product as upcycles are really using it in a not misleading way, to help educate consumers, and also, coming again from my advantage point in law and policy, to educate policymakers about the fact that this is a real opportunity.

Upcycled food really is food that has been either a surplus product that would otherwise be wasted, often products that were imperfect or ugly produce that would be wasted, and instead we're finding a way to process them into something else. Or could be the byproducts of food. I don't know yet where this will go, but it as an example, there's a group looking at eggshells, we don't eat them, we throw them away, but there's a lot of nutrients in there. Is there some way to process them that make them safe to consume, but uses those nutrients and reduces food waste?

There's a lot of opportunity, it's a burgeoning area for innovation. We were able to work on the definition. I can [unintelligible 00:32:20] you a couple of highlights of it. In working on this there's really a task force of a bunch of different other nonprofit organizations, some industries, some folks from government. We were able to really think about what the definition should look like. One of the big pieces was we, intuitively, know this, but that upcycled food would be made from ingredients, but otherwise would be wasted. I think this piece is really important and will be important.

I know the Upcycled Food Association now is taking the first steps towards developing a certification for businesses and products that want to claim that they are upcycled. Making sure that it's not greenwash and we're not putting this label on food that otherwise would have been sold anyway, but that it's really going onto ingredients that we know have been rescued from going to the landfill or from being wasted in some other way.

Upcycled food we really determined would be things that are value-added. This is because upcycling comes from the term recycling, which connotes taking something and changing it in some way to make it into a new product. These are products that some value has been added, they've been cooked or processed in some way to turn them into a new product that is an upcycling of their former selves.

We talked also about the Upcycled Food, at least for now, having an auditable supply chain. I think over time with certification this will be essential. If you're claiming that your product is upcycled, making sure that you're tracking your supply chain to be able to show that along the way. For example, a consumer were to come back and say, "Show me how this has been upcycled." This seems unlikely, but potentially if there were a lawsuit where consumers said, "I think you lied about this being upcycled", that you'd be able as a company to show that supply chain.

Also, indicating which ingredients are the ones that are upcycled on a product. For example, most products will contain some ingredients that are upcycled, but will also contain other ingredients that are not. Especially, if they're being cooked or processed in some ways, so making that clear. I'm so energized and excited that Upcycled Food Association has already done so much to pull it together and make a mean for this growing field that I think has a lot of potential. I think from the definition and from the certification, there'll be a lot of future opportunities for businesses, for government, for consumers to use upcycled products to meet their own goals around sustainability, and climate, etcetera.

[00:35:19] Liz: It'll be exciting to watch. I think you're right, I think it is going to lead to a lot of innovation. It’s just so great to see this happening in the industry.

[00:35:29] Emily: Yes. They estimated that the market for upcycled food is $46 billion. This is a sizable opportunity, one that has social value. It's all really exciting.

[00:35:46] Liz: That is exciting. Emily, what else should we be paying attention to? A lot of our listeners are in waste management, recycling, and they handle food waste. Is there anything that you'd like to see them pay attention to from your perspective?

[00:36:04] Emily: If anything, I think anyone working in any part of the food system right now is probably seeing really rapid changes. I think, things on my radar, we anticipate there's going to be some additional at the national level, some next version of the stimulus bills that have been passed throughout spring. We've been spending some time focused on what are opportunities there.

In the food waste space, we focused on trying to get some changes on the margins to the liability protection, just to make it easier to protect the types of food donation that we're seeing during the pandemic. We've also been pushing for some additions to the tax incentive for food donations. Most notably, one to create a tax incentive that's better suited to farmers because we often hear that farmers find it very difficult to claim the federal deduction that they can get for donating food.

The other piece that we're pushing for is a tax benefit that would be for companies that are involved in the logistics and transportation of getting food waste from point A to point B. Those are things to have on the radar. I think whatever else comes out of that will, undoubtedly, end up addressing some of the things we're hearing about in the food system, whether from the food security snap and food assistance side, to the farmer support side.

The other thing that's important, and I have been trying to take time for this now, is remembering that this is going to be a marathon. I think taking the long view of both your own personal house and how much we can be working full-time right now, just trying to understand and respond to all these inputs. Also, that I think is going to be opportunities in the coming months as well for those with expertise in different parts of the food system to give input on what this looks like and what that long view should look like.

We have been revitalizing the work that we did a few years ago, also on pushing for the US to create a coordinated national food strategy. We've seen lots of other countries do things like this prior to COVID, some countries are trying to create one because of the response to the pandemic, but I think if something like that would have come about in the US, our hope and the vision that we're pushing is that it would be a way to coordinate agencies across the government. Even more importantly, to provide ways for stakeholders throughout the food system to give input to government on what it looks like on the ground to be transporting food, and handling food, and seeing the waste. Help use all of that greater participatory process to drive better policy.

That's something I hope that we'll see, and we'll be putting out a report on that this fall as well, and in the lead up to the election.

[00:39:16] Liz: That's great. We'd love to get a hold of that when you do that. That sounds really interesting, we'd love to follow that.

[00:39:23] Emily: Thank you, I'd love that.

[00:39:25] Liz: Emily, this has been such an awesome conversation, you're so insightful. I think our listeners will get a lot out of this. Thank you for spending so much time with us.

[00:39:35] Emily: For sure, I feel I was so long-winded. Reiterating again, if there's anything that was super long-winded that you want to cut down in any way, if you listen to it and you need me to do any modification, let me know. It was fun, I love talking about this stuff, I feel I could go on and on, so I have to bring myself in. Thanks for letting me pontificate.

[00:39:56] Liz: [laughs] I love it, I'd love to hear your passion. I love how you cover so many areas beyond even your legal perspective, it's super helpful. I felt I even learned a lot, so thank you so much. Please, stay well. I wish you and your students' luck, and your family too. Everybody stay well.

[00:40:16] Emily: Thank you, you too. All right, talk to you soon.

[00:40:20] Liz: Okay. Thanks, Emily. Bye-bye.


Sustainability Talks

An Innovative Solution to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic in Ramen Packaging


Many college students know a thing or two about ramen noodles. But, for Holly Grounds, who studied product design at Ravensbourne University London, a main focus is the packaging of those noodles.

“The product can be cooked and eaten in under 10 minutes, yet the packaging can take eight decades to decompose,” notes Grounds. So, in order to eliminate the single-use plastic prevalent in most instant noodles, she has devised an “edible spiced packaging film.”

The biofilm is created from potato starch, glycerin, water, and seasonings. Once solidified, Grounds uses the film to wrap the noodles into a doughnut shape “for even heating on the stovetop.” The ramen bundle is then placed into a paper wrapper for the sake of hygiene.  

Grounds’s invention was showcased in the recent VDF x New Designers graduate show, highlighting “standout student projects from across the UK.”

View the original article here.

Feasibility Study: Waste to Bio Synthetic Natural Gas


The world generates more than 2.1 billion metric tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) every year. That’s enough to fill 822,000 Olympic swimming pools. Sadly, only 16 percent of this is recycled, with the majority of items sent to landfills after only one use by consumers.


Policy makers face difficulty focusing efforts within the waste hierarchy. Should they invest in more recycling programs as successfully demonstrated by countries like Sweden? Or is it time to accept the reality of the present situation and invest into energy recovery methods from the phenomenal amount of landfill waste? Research conducted by the University College of London (UCL) aimed to focus on innovative waste-to-energy methods. 

Engineering fellows partnered with U.K.-based company Advanced Plasma Power Ltd. to design a chemical plant capable of processing 100,000 metric tons of MSW every year into energy. The project wanted to move away from energy recovery via waste incineration, which is widely seen across countries. Most experts agree that waste incineration is the last and least favorable option of energy recovery.

To improve overall carbon negativity, the research focused on converting waste directly into Bio-SNG (Bio-Synthetic Natural Gas, also known as methane). Bio-SNG then is injected into the gas grid used by homeowners.

Some of the key differences between waste incineration versus waste to Bio-SNG include: 

  • The latter method provides the ability to produce clean, lucrative fuels as well as electricity.
  • Plants produce no emissions to the air; there is no stack, no particulate emissions and no dioxins. 
  • The method produces valuable by-products in the form of captured carbon dioxide and inorganic rock. 

Below is a basic schematic of the proposed waste-to-Bio-SNG plant: 


A brief overview of the process: 

  1. MSW with various types of waste first passes through a magnetic conductor to separate ferrous metals. The process then shreds the remaining mixture and passes it through a dryer. The process rejects 5-10 percent at this stage. 
  2. The feed is now classified as refuse-derived fuel (RDF), which is then heated at 1,380 degrees Fahrenheit to produce crude synthetic gas consisting mainly of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and a host of other unwanted outputs such as residual tars, unprocessed chars and ash.  
  3. Using the technology from Advanced Plasma Power, high energetic beams in the form of ultraviolet light pass through the crude synthetic gas. With temperatures operating at 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit, those previously unwanted components break down into Plasmarok (an environmentally stable product) while organic matter is reformed. 
  4. Purified syngas passes through two sequential processing units – one to remove hydrogen sulphide and the other to remove hydrogen chloride.
  5. Once the gas has been adequately purged of impurities, it enters a water gas shift unit. The process then converts carbon monoxide and water into carbon dioxide and hydrogen to improve the reactant composition for the upcoming methanation step. 
  6. Hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide pass through a series of three adiabatic reactors with the help of a nickel catalyst to produce Methane and water.
  7. Finally, the process recycles water from the product, leaving only Bio-SNG with an 87-percent methane purity. 


Marc-Olivier Coppens, head of chemical engineering at UCL, supervised various simulations in the year-long project. The team operated with creative freedom to access all the possibilities of a waste to Bio-SNG plant.

A few of the considerations included:

  • using a pure biomass feed as opposed to MSW generated from homes;  
  • bolting on a steam-electric power station to the methanation process in order to exploit the heat generated from the exothermic reaction;
  • recycling heat from the methanation reaction to power the high energy requirements of the plasma power unit;
  • combusting the Bio-SNG yield for electricity generation; and
  • developing the material into Plasmarok, a by-product of the plasma converter, so it can be used in road paving and pipe bedding.

While evaluating all the possible waste-to-energy innovations improved the overall environmental impact of the plant, favoring the environment directly hampered the economic feasibility. As with all projects, financial profitability governs decisions. With this in the mind, the simulation delivered the following results:


The total cost of the proposed plant, including all 52 processing units, land, construction and labour was estimated to be $146 million, with a return on investment (ROI) after nine years of operation. The resulting Bio-SNG would be enough to power 15,000 homes every year. The figures above represent a somewhat conservative picture as the plant had a maximum processing capacity of 150,000 metric tons of MSW each year. 
Results from the simulation were certainly positive. So why isn’t this method of waste-to-energy recovery commonly seen? After all, 90 percent of the major processing units, including the water-gas shift reactor, methanation reactor, hydrogen sulphide absorber and water extractor, are already widely used across various industries.

The crux lies in the advanced plasma power unit. As the name suggests, the technology lays on the fringes of commercial viability. Because of this engineering fellows had to manually insert data from the manufacturer to avoid confusion with the chemical software.

At the core of the unit, temperatures reach more than 8,540 degrees Fahrenheit – about four times hotter than molten lava. At these temperatures, you are pushing the laws of thermodynamics to the absolute maximum.

However, after successfully running a pilot plant for more than 3,500 hours the world’s first waste-to-Bio-SNG plant got the green light for commissioning in Swindon, U.K. The companies initially involved in the plant were the National Grid, Advanced Plasma Power and energy development company Progressive Energy. Together, Go Green Fuels was set up to deliver the plant.

However, rising construction costs forced the company to go into insolvency, resulting in the project being suspended for the next 14 months. Since then, the company has raised more than $12 million and has resumed construction of the highly innovative plant. Operations are set to begin processing waste at some point in 2020. If and when the facility goes live, it will indeed provide a breath of fresh innovation for the waste-to-energy sector.