Are You Ready? Preparing for Massachusetts’s Commercial Food Waste Ban

Does your food business produce more than a ton of food waste per week? If so, now is the time to plan for the change! In Massachusetts, new regulations will ban food waste from the waste stream, sending it to be donated or composted instead. (And if you don’t know how much waste you produce, now is also the time to find out!) Though diverting food waste may seem like a big change to institute, the waste ban is a good thing, both for your business’s environmental impact and for its bottom line.


The waste ban will go into effect eight months from now, on July 1, 2014. Restaurants, caterers and other institutions that produce food, such as schools, will be required to repurpose any unused but edible food, whether by reusing it in the kitchen or by donating it to a charity. Any food waste that isn’t reusable must be composted. While waste can be sent to a composting operation or to a farm for use as animal feed,Massachusetts is encouraging producers to send waste to anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities.  Like traditional composting, AD processed waste into finished compost, but the design of the facility means that it’s possible to capture the gases produced by decomposition.

Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland have all enacted more stringent food waste bans, including both commercial and residential waste. Massachusetts won’t be alone: Connecticut has also adopted a ban on commercial food waste, effective January 1, and Vermont’s (which includes residential waste) kicks in on July 1.

Why Should You Care?

Food makes up 15% of Massachusetts’s current waste stream, with compostable materials like yard waste and paper adding another 10%. That’s 600-900,000 tons headed to landfill and incineration, where they produce potent greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide as they decompose. With anaerobic digestion, those gases can be used as renewable energy, never entering the atmosphere at all. To put these energy savings into context, composting just five gallons of food is equivalent to saving one gallon of gasoline. And of course, all forms of composting produce valuable and nutrient-rich compost for fertilizer and animal bedding, adding a market incentive to diverting food waste from landfills.

Reducing Food Waste Makes Good Business Cents and Sense

It’s to a food producer’s advantage to reduce the amount of waste produced, so that there’s less to donate or divert. It’s a simple equation: minimizing waste increases yield, and reduces cost margins. Making sure that everything you buy is being used to the fullest will reduce your food purchasing budget, and allow you to squeeze more value out of the money you’ve already spent.

There is a plethora of straightforward, highly effective ways to control pre-consumer waste in the kitchen. Simple changes like using sharper knives and training staff to trim veggies more mindfully will reduce wastage in preparation; saving trimmings and stems for vegetable broth or using day-old bread as croutons lets you to reuse perfectly good food in creative and budget-minded solutions. Storing food properly to maximize its lifetime will also help reduce wastage and purchasing. Food that’s edible but not used – whether it’s damaged produce or fully prepared extra portions—can be donated to nearby shelters and food banks; the waste ban includes provisos to make it easier to donate.

As for post-consumer waste, it might make sense to audit how much food is coming back uneaten, and adjusting portion size to reduce leftovers. Switching to smaller plates can make customers feel more satisfied with portion sizes, even when they’ve shrunk a little.

New Regulations Create Business Opportunities

With hundreds of businesses statewide now looking for a place to send their compost, the ban opens the door to a new business sector for food waste processors. Shadow Valley Farms, just over the border in Enfield, CT, is one such business taking advantage of this opportunity. A dairy farm that has been developing a compost sideline to deal with cow “waste” for the last decade, Shadow Valley currently adds landscaping waste from nearby businesses to its supply of manure to produce finished compost. In 2014, they’ll be adding facilities to process food waste from central Massachusetts businesses. The expansion will add new jobs, an improved source stream for the compost product, and a much-needed option for food businesses looking to work with a local compost processor to comply with the waste ban.

Interested in Reading More?

Reduce food and energy waste in your business with our tips for a triple bottom line. San Franciscans have had plenty of time to get to grips with their own waste ban; here’s a thorough list of suggestions.  MA DEP offers more tips on waste reduction, working with a waste hauler, and a worksheet to assess your operations. When you’re ready to start planning your diversion technique, we suggest using this searchable database for compost haulers and processors in Massachusetts to find a good match.

Have you started thinking about how to divert food waste? Drop us a line if you need help thinking about your operation, or choosing a processing option.

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