Glancing at the headlines over the last year or so, one might get the sense that food waste is the new enemy No. 1 in the sustainable food world. New York City made a splash in the news in June for its ambitious proposal to require eight million city residents and numerous small businesses to separate their food scraps each week for composting.
But quietly, Massachusetts, the Empire State’s symbolic rival, may be the first state in the nation to achieve zero-waste status when it comes to discarded food. That distinction is certainly several years off, but the Commonwealth made an unprecedented step forward last month in proposing a plan that would require all businesses to recycle their food scraps into renewable energy.
And just last week, the City of Boston launched a three-month pilot program that will allow residents to drop off their unused food scraps at three farmers markets throughout the city to be “transformed into fertile soil for use in commercial and personal farming and gardening projects,” a press release announced.
“Residents have made it clear that they support a healthier, cleaner Boston that supports local agriculture, healthy food and waste reduction,” Mayor Thomas Menino said in a statement. “This pilot will show residents how separating food scraps from trash is better for the environment and our bottom-line.”
Jonathan Bloom, creator of WastedFood.com and author of American Wasteland, says Boston’s program will be a “baby step in the right direction” that will likely lead to residential curbside composting collection. He says that without compulsory curbside collection, Boston will be salvaging a fraction of the food waste that is being created.
“Drop-off sites provide an avenue for city residents with the will, but not the outdoor space, to compost,” Bloom says. “While it’s a start, very few people want to recycle food badly enough that they’re willing to store and then transport their food scraps to a drop-off point.”
But while Boston eases into its attack on food waste, the State of Massachusetts has set an aggressive goal to “increase by 350,000 tons per year the amount of organic material diverted from disposal statewide by 2020,” according to its website. The state is currently building several facilities that will convert food scraps into energy in preparation for regulations taking effect next year that will “ban hospitals, universities, hotels, and large restaurants—in all, about 1,700 big businesses and institutions—from discarding food waste in the trash,” according to the Boston Globe.
Such efforts couldn’t happen quickly enough, considering our nation wastes 40 percent of its food supply while others don’t know where their next meal will come from. But making a dent in the problem of food waste requires widespread, mandatory action on the part of cities and states, Bloom says. He says he believes this will be the next step for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, which is pushing the new composting regulations for businesses.
“There are sound arguments for both mandatory and voluntary composting—both commercial and residential,” he says. “Yet, if the goal is maximizing the amount of food waste diverted from landfills, compulsory composting is the only choice.”