Senate Takes Pass on Bill Keeping Food Waste Out of Landfills, Incinerators

Tom Johnson | February 11, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Enviros’ hope of quick passage goes down the drain, bill reducing methane pollution now likely to be heard by both legislative houses
Credit: MPCA Photos via Flickr
Sending food waste to a commercial composting facility releases less methane into the atmosphere than shipping it to a garbage dump or incinerator.

It looks as if it will take the state much longer to get a better grip on its food-waste problem than lawmakers and others had hoped.

The Senate yesterday balked at voting for a bill that has been debated for much of the past six years to prevent food waste from being dumped primarily in landfills and incinerators. A similar bill had won approval last summer but was conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil. Murphy, largely because it gave too many exemptions allowing food waste to be sent to garbage dumps or incinerators.

Instead, the lawmakers held off voting on the measure, concurring with Murphy’s recommendations amid bipartisan concerns about the legislation (S-865), which seeks to force large generators of food waste, like hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets, to recycle or compost the trash.

Saying ‘no’ to methane collection

Backers had lobbied for the bill to win quick passage, but the decision to delay a vote makes it likely the measure will need to get a full airing in both houses of the Legislature. A chief concern that emerged this session is that the bill eliminated an exemption that allows up to 10 counties to use methane-collection systems to capture the gas and reuse it to produce electricity.

Environmental groups were disappointed the bill didn’t come up for a vote. “This bill will have a meaningful impact on greenhouse-gas emissions and to clean up environmental justice communities,’’ said Dave Pringle, a consultant for Clean Water Action.

Americans throw out up to 40% of their food every year by some estimates, most of that going to landfills and incinerators. Under the bill, large generators of food waste would have to separate food waste from other trash and either send it to composting facilities or to food-to-waste facilities, including anaerobic digesters.

“We need to start dealing with this issue,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need to get food waste out of landfills and garbage incinerators.’’

The New Jersey Food Council argued the bill would be too costly to supermarkets, arguing there are too few composting and other facilities to handle food waste. If they could prove the costs were higher than going to an authorized landfill or incinerator, they could seek a waiver under the bill.