Many 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.
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.
MassDEP lists several resources (pdf) for donating food in Massachusetts.
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.
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?
In 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.
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.
Food Waste Case Studies
RecyclingWorks has helped many businesses and institutions to implement food waste management programs. Read some of their stories below.
UMASS Amherst Blue Wall Cafe
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
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
Hilton Garden Inn Case Study: Learn about how the Hilton Garden Inn has implemented commercial composting in the Devens area.
Cooley Dickinson Hospital
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
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
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: 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.
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 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!
Learn about recycling other materials
For more information on other commonly recycled materials visit these pages:
- Bottles & Cans
- Construction Materials
- Fluorescent Lamps/Light Bulbs
- Find out how to start or improve your own recycling program.
- Find a hauler or processor for recyclable materials in your area, search our Recycler Database.
- Find out how you can purchase recycled products, check out our Buying Recycled Products section.
- For more information on recycling in Massachusetts check out the MassDEP Factsheet: Where does it all go?
- Learn about Massachusetts Waste Bans
- Find out how you can purchase compost and other products produced from food waste and leaves and yard waste in our Buying Recycled Products section.
- Download the Center for EcoTechnology’s Toolkit for restaurants and schools that can provide helpful guidance for smaller waste generators.
- Download the Mass DAR Composting Guide.