Measure Would Reduce Amount of Food Waste Sent to Incinerators, Landfills

Tom Johnson | February 4, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Targeting large generators of food waste, like hospitals and prisons, bill would require trash to be recycled rather than sent to garbage dumps, where it rots and releases methane
Credit: Michael Cory via Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A supermarket dumpster loaded with broccoli.

The Legislature is looking to revive a bill that would force large generators of food waste, such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets, to recycle their trash instead of sending it to incinerators or landfills.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee approved the legislation (A-2371), a measure that has been kicked around by lawmakers in various versions for the past six years. A similar, but not identical, bill won approval last year, but was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy this past summer.

By some accounts, Americans throw out up to 40% of their food every year, discarding it mostly to garbage dumps and incinerators. In landfills, it ends up rotting and releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, into the atmosphere.

Throwing away food — and money

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 38 million tons of food produced for human consumption are lost every year, a loss equating to $168 billion.

Under the bill, large generators of food waste would have to separate it from other trash and send it to either composting facilities or food-waste-to-energy facilities, including anaerobic digesters.

But opponents, including the New Jersey Food Council, argued it would be too costly for supermarkets to comply with the law. Moreover, there are too few composting and other facilities that could recycle the food waste, according to the council’s Rocco D’Antonio.

“If it is not cost-effective, no one will do it,’’ predicted D’Antonio.

The bill is viewed as a step toward reducing the amount of food waste that ends up in the environment, but compromises in the most recent legislative session end up pushing Gov. Phil Murphy to conditionally veto the bill.

Unacceptable exemptions

In his message, the governor objected to amendments that would allow food waste to go to landfills and trash incinerators. “I am concerned that these exemptions will disproportionately affect environmental-justice communities already overburdened by waste facilities, especially incinerators, which emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming.’’

Those issues are likely to be sticking points in the ongoing legislative debate. At least 10 counties have methane-collection systems that capture the gas and reuse it to produce electricity, according to Theodore Schwartz, a lawyer representing the Ocean County landfill. Those facilities were exempted in past versions of the bill and he pressed the committee to retain the exemption.

The committee released the bill without the exemption, but it may be added as the measure moves through the Legislature. “We are not going to sit quietly on this,’’ Schwartz told the committee.

Environmentalist backed the bill, telling lawmakers it is time the state begins addressing its food-waste problems.

“This legislation will help curb New Jersey’s food-waste problem,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This bill will help keep food waste out of landfills and reduce methane emissions.’’