Massachusetts is implementing a nation-leading program to convert a solid waste problem into a clean energy solution. Through a combination of regulatory mandates, financial assistance, and the state leading by example, Massachusetts is poised to divert 450,000 tons/year of organic waste that would otherwise be burned in incinerators or buried in landfills. Instead, this material will go to composting facilities, or even better to anaerobic digestion facilities which create a clean biogas that can be used for electricity and heat. This initiative will lower greenhouse gases, boost the state’s renewable energy production, and create jobs in a new sustainable industry.
Massachusetts’ Solid Waste Master Plan sets a goal to quadruple the diversion of organic material from disposal in landfills and incinerators from the current level (100,000 tons per year diverted) to 450,000 tons per year by 2020. Once diverted from the trash, much of this organic material will go to anaerobic digesters, an emerging technology that generates renewable biogas and creates beneficial byproducts (for animal bedding, compost, and fertilizer) while reducing the potential of nuisance odors. The Commonwealth also has a goal to have three anaerobic digestion facilities on state land and multiple private facilities either operating in active permitting in 2014, and to increase energy production from aerobic and anaerobic digestion to 50 megawatts (375 GWh/y) by 2020. To achieve these goals, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has developed and is implementing a multi-pronged strategic Organics Action Plan.
The Organics Action Plan includes initiatives that are collecting and analyzing data, building a robust and efficient collection and diversion infrastructure, establishing increased processing capacity and markets, and improving the Commonwealth’s regulatory framework for managing organic materials that have been diverted from waste and for harvesting clean power and other beneficial uses from this material. Key components of this effort include: established regulations designed to foster safe siting of facilities that beneficially reuse source-separated organics including anaerobic digestion; proposing a ban on disposal of organic material in waste by large commercial generators that will preserve dwindling landfill capacity as well as create a valuable feedstock for anaerobic digestion; proactively siting three anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities on state lands (including using food waste generated at a university and two prisons to create lower-cost clean energy that can be used onsite); providing technical and financial assistance for waste management and diversion to large commercial generators of organic waste; and making low-interest loan funds available to construct AD operations, building a strong market for this technology in Massachusetts.
A central component of this strategy is the proposed waste ban, which would apply to any business or institution that disposes more than one ton of organic material per week. MassDEP expects this ban to increase recycling by 350,000 tons of organic waste each year, capturing valuable materials for renewable energy generation and soil enrichment, generating jobs and economic development in Massachusetts, and supporting improved materials management at farms and wastewater treatment plants. A draft waste ban regulation was out for public comment as of mid-2013, and MassDEP has proposed to have the ban take effect in summer 2014.
Results to Date:
- Revised solid waste regulations for safely siting organics processing facilities have been promulgated (2012)
- 100,000 tons per year of organic material is currently being diverted from disposal to beneficial uses
- More than 300 supermarkets have established food waste diversion programs
- Two farm-based AD facilities are operating, and proponents are developing plans for 10-12 additional facilities
- Identified three sites on state land to be suitable for new AD facilities, and completed feasibility studies for two of the three, and planned to issue a request for proposals seeking private developers to run these
- An increased number of haulers are offering organics collection services to generators
- Nearly 30 compost sites are currently approved to take commercial-scale food waste
- Developed robust data on commercial food waste generation and management
- Created the “RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts” program to provide information and direct technical assistance to businesses and institutions
- Established broad support for the proposed ban and developed guidance and assistance materials to help businesses comply, including more than a dozen case studies on successful programs
Actions Completed and Ongoing:
- Issued draft waste ban regulations in July 2013; to be effective July 2014
- Providing more than $6 million in funding to support the growth of AD (in concert with the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center)
- Providing municipal grants to support the growth of food waste composting and municipal collection systems
- Developing guidance for local health officials on managing food waste collection
Business Recycling Branch Chief, Bureau of Waste Prevention
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP)