The Commercial Organics Ban, which took effect on October 1, 2014, is the latest effort by MassDEP to achieve the state’s solid waste management goal of reducing waste disposal by 30% by 2020.  MassDEP estimates that organics – i.e., food waste, compostable paper, and other organics – make up 25% of the state’s solid waste stream.  With the implementation of the organics ban, MassDEP hopes to divert at least 35% of food waste from disposal by 2020.

The organics ban is designed to apply only to larger generators of organic wastes.  The ban applies to non-residential entities – such as supermarkets, hotels, and hospitals – that dispose of one ton or more of food waste for disposal per week.  Approximately 1,700 businesses and institutions are expected to be affected by the new measure, which bans the disposal, incineration, or transfer for disposal of commercial organic material to solid waste facilities in Massachusetts.  A brief description of the rule amendment can be found here and a copy of the amendment can be found here.

To help businesses and institutions determine whether they meet the one ton per week threshold, MassDEP has provided the following estimates – note that these are estimates and are not clearly sanctioned by MassDEP as a method to determine compliance:

  • College or University
    • Residential – 730 students
    • Non-residential – 2,750 students
  • Secondary School – 4,000 students
  • Hospital – 80 beds
  • Nursing Home – 160 beds
  • Restaurant – 70 or more full time employees
  • Resort/Conference Property – 475 seats
  • Supermarket – 35 or more full time employees

To comply with the ban, businesses and institutions are required to either donate food or send food waste to a composting site, an animal-feed operation, or an anaerobic digestion facility for conversion to energy.  MassDEP maintains a list of facilities accepting diverted food waste material here.  Additionally, MassDEP’s RecyclingWorks program provides businesses and institutions with resources and guidance for complying with the ban and reducing food waste generation.

The Commercial Organics Ban covers food and plant materials from sources other than residences, and MassDEP guidance specifies that it includes everything from pet food to food scraps to liquid food waste (if sent for disposal), but biodegradable products such as compostable plates and cups and compostable paper such as paper towels and napkins are not included directly in the ban.  Packaged food must be removed from packaging or sent to a facility for removal, otherwise the generator must seek a waste ban exception from MassDEP.  The ban also extends to loads of commercial organic material that get rejected from compost or anaerobic digestion facilities as a result of contamination.  Here, generators must separate the commercial organic material from the other materials or seek a waste ban exception from MassDEP for that material.  Further, compost facilities must address how they will treat residual material that may contain some commercial organic material.

Notwithstanding that the Commercial Organics Ban rule applies to “any entity that generates more than one ton of those materials for solid waste disposal per week,” MassDEP guidance indicates that the agency intends to apply the one ton per week threshold by location, not by entity; that is, MassDEP will interpret the threshold based on the amount of material disposed by single location and will not look at the disposal quantity across an entire chain of locations owned by the same entity.  Where multiple businesses or institutions occupy the same campus or site and each independently manages its own waste disposal, each business is a separate location and the ban applies only to those businesses that dispose of one or more tons of food waste per week on the campus/site.  However, if there is a single owner of a common campus, such as a college campus or a corporate headquarters, or if wastes from multiple separately owned businesses on a common campus/site are combined and disposed of together under contract, MassDEP will treat the site as a single location and the ban will apply if the combined disposal equals one or more tons of food waste per week.     

MassDEP guidance also indicates that the agency intends to determine the applicability of the Commercial Organics Ban on a weekly basis.  For example, if a business has seasonal fluctuations and triggers the threshold only for some weeks during the year – such as during the summer – the ban will apply only during that part of the year when the disposal rate triggers the threshold.  If an entity generates more than one ton of waste on a single day, such as for a fair or similar one-time event, the ban will apply to that entity during that particular week only.  

Solid waste facilities managing waste materials were required to revise their waste ban plans to incorporate the ban on commercial organic matter by October 1, 2014.  Note, however, that because the ban only applies to commercial food waste only, solid waste facilities do not need to inspect for commercial organic material in loads collected from residential routes only.