Food Waste

Culling food at a supermarketMany types of businesses and institutions generate food waste at their facilities. Larger food-centered businesses like supermarkets, catering operations, and food processors typically have large amounts of food waste and can benefit significantly by composting food waste and diverting this material from disposal.  If your business or institution has a food service operation it is likely that there is food waste generated in the preparation, service, and clean-up process that could be diverted from disposal.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has established a commercial organics waste ban, which will go into effect on October 1, 2014.  Estimate your food waste using the RecyclingWorks Food Waste Estimation Guide and learn more about complying with the commercial food waste disposal ban here.


Food Donations

Non-perishable and unspoiled perishable food can be donated to local food banks, soup kitchens, and shelters. Food recovery programs can offer numerous benefits to businesses and communities. They provide wholesome food to needy families and help communities and businesses meet state and local waste reduction goals. Food recovery programs can save businesses money otherwise spent on trash collection and disposal fees, allow for tax deductions according to the 1976 Tax Reform Act (Section #2135, p. 106), and improve public image.  Since 1996 the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act has protected good-faith food and grocery donors from civil and criminal liability.

Find a list of food banks and food rescue organizations in Massachusetts and learn more about starting a food donation program at your place of business on our Donate Food page.

Don’t trash your food waste – compost it!

MassDEP estimates that food waste accounts for about 15% percent of all municipal solid waste disposed in the state of Massachusetts, or nearly 900,000 tons per year. When other organic materials like compostable paper and yard waste are included, the combined organics total about 25% of all disposal. In today’s economy, many businesses have started composting programs at work because it saves them money on waste disposal costs. Composting is also good for the planet and your local community because it reduces GHG emissions from landfills. According to the Highfields Center for Composting, composting 5 gallons of food waste is equivalent to not burning one-gallon of gasoline. Finished compost is used by farms and gardeners, reducing the need for chemical-based soil amendments.

The RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts program has worked with local health officials to develop recommended Best Management Practices (BMPs) for use by health agents to support and inform local oversight of commercial food waste collection programs.  These BMPs are also intended to serve as a resource to businesses and institutions and their haulers.  In addition, RecyclingWorks has developed a Food Diversion Guide specifically for restaurants.

In 2010, the Center for EcoTechnology helped Big Y Foods supermarkets compost over 1,100 tons of food waste and recycle over 13,000 tons of cardboard and film plastics; the net result in avoided trash disposal costs and recycling revenue was a contribution of about $2.5 million to Big Y’s bottom line! Big Y and many of the other businesses that compost benefit from these cost savings and also get to share this information with consumers and clients who often choose to spend their dollars with conscientious green businesses. Read the Big Y Supermarket Case History.

What happens to food waste?

Recycling Coffee ChafeIn Massachusetts, there are a number of food and organic material composting operations ranging in size from small farms to large commercial processing facilities. Much like traditional recycling, food waste can be transported by a hauler to a local designated processing facility. A competitive service market is being created with many new hauling/collection companies and farms working to develop and build additional capacity to manage food waste in Massachusetts.

There are several methods of composting including open and covered windrows, aerated static piles, and in-vessel technologies to name a few. A newly emerging technology in Massachusetts is called anaerobic digestions which takes organic wastes like food waste and captures methane in the process to create renewable energy. For facilities that generate large amounts of food waste, some on-site solutions may also be an option.

In the basic composting process – naturally occurring microorganisms decompose organic waste.  This applies to all the composting methods above. Composting facilities manage the proper balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, moisture and temperature to create a salable product that is made available for a variety of uses in landscaping, erosion control, and farming applications.

Commercial composting operations can handle a range of different materials. In addition to the typical feedstock of fruit and vegetable trimmings, coffee grounds, egg shells and napkins, the commercial process can safely handle raw and cooked meats and fats, dairy products, compostable paper like paper towels, waxed cardboard, and compostable cutlery and containers. Exact input material specifications can vary from facility to facility so be sure to check what materials are accepted before including anything beyond food. The Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) is an excellent resource for determining what items are acceptable in compost at your facility. BPI is a professional association of key individuals and groups from government, industry and academia, which promotes the use, and recycling of biodegradable polymeric materials via composting.

What happens to food once it is composted?

Finished compost is tested and graded, which determines its final use. The resulting product can be used on site at the processing facility such as a farm, or it can be sold as a product that enriches soil by improving its structure and increasing its moisture and nutrient retention. When compost is used in farming, gardening and landscaping applications, it provides organic nutrients to plants without the use of chemical fertilizers and retains moisture in the soil, reducing the need for watering.

The EPA Food Recovery Challenge

The Food Recovery Challenge asks participants to make efforts to reduce the amount of food waste they produce, reducing their expenses and greenhouse gas emissions while helping the community.  Read about success stories from the EPA’s food recovery challenge here.

Food Waste Case Studies

RecyclingWorks has helped many businesses and institutions to implement food waste management programs.  Read some of their stories below.

Gardner Ale House

Learn how RecyclingWorks helped Gardner Ale House establish a successful program to divert food waste to an off-site pig farm in advance of the commercial organics ban.


Lenox Hotel

Learn how RecyclingWorks helped the Lenox Hotel in Boston estimate current food waste volumes and develop a successful food waste diversion program in their three on-site restaurants.

UMASS Amherst Blue Wall Cafe

PDF  Blue Wall Case Study: Learn how the University of Massachusetts diverted over 1200 pounds of food waste per day by implementing a composting program.

Boston University Dining Services

PDF Boston University Case Study:  Learn How Boston University grew their composting program from 4 tons of organic waste diverted in 2007 to over 850 tons in 2011.

Hilton Garden Inn, Devens, MA

PDF Hilton Garden Inn Case Study:  Learn about how the Hilton Garden Inn has implemented commercial composting in the Devens area.

Cooley Dickinson Hospital

PDF Cooley Dickinson Case Study Learn the simple steps used by Cooley Dickinson Hospital used to expand their composting program and divert 60 tons of organic waste!

Blue Man Group

PDF  Blue Man Group Case Study: Learn how Blue Man Group expanded their recycling system, began food waste diversion and drastically reduced waste disposal costs while meeting internal green initiatives.

Big Y Supermarkets

PDF  Big Y Supermarket Case History: Learn how Big Y supermarkets saved $2.4 million in 2010 by diverting their organic materials and recyclables from disposal.

Northampton Brewery

PDFNorthampton Brewery:  Learn about Northampton Brewery’s commitment to a low environmental impact and the measures that allow them to divert 300 tons of food waste annually.

Harvard University

PDFHarvard Case Study:  Learn how Harvard University achieves 55% waste diversion, despite limited storage and dock space, by utilizing technology and student involvement.

Clio Restaurant


Clio Case Study:  Read about the steps the Clio Restaurant in Boston, MA takes to divert nearly 50,000 lbs of food waste annually!

Genzyme Corporation


Genzyme Case Study:  Learn about the challenges and accomplishments of Genzyme Corporation’s food waste management program, and the steps they implemented to divert 6,620 lbs of food waste in the first year!

State Street Corporation


State Street Case Study:  State Street Corporation decreased their total waste volume by 13% simply by implementing a pre-consumer composting program!

Gardner Ale House


Gardner Ale House Case Study:  Gardner Ale House in diverts over 70% of its waste by composting and recycling.


Learn about recycling other materials

For more information on other commonly recycled materials visit these pages:

Additional Resources