The New Normal: Mandatory Organic Waste Recycling Laws


Studies estimate that 72% of the municipal solid waste generated in the United States disposed of in landfills is organic (U.S. Composting Council). That means that approximately 177 million tons of trash sent to landfills in the United States (the U.S. EPA estimates that more than 254 million tons of trash is generated annually) could be diverted, and either processed naturally to create nutrient rich compost, or digested anaerobically to produce energy. Landfills are the number one source of methane emission in the United States, a greenhouse gas that is 23% more efficient at retaining heat than oxygen and a potent contributor to global warming. Decreasing landfill space coupled with the increasing importance of environmental sustainability for federal, tribal, state, and local leaders is resulting new laws regulating the disposal of organic waste across the country.

National Trends.

In the last three years, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, and cities like Boulder, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco have all passed mandatory organic waste recycling programs to reduce the amount of organic waste going to landfills. These laws range from complete bans of organic waste in landfills, to penalties for disposing of organic waste in the the trash, to tax financial incentives for businesses to invest in composting infrastructure. More than 90 U.S. cities now offer curbside composting pick-up, and the numbers of city, county, and state governments enacting organic waste recycling laws continue to grow. 

The federal government is following suit. In 2015 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the Nation’s first ever initiative to reduce and recycle food waste by 50% over the next 15 years. As part of this initiative, federal agencies will work with local communities, state, tribal, and local governments to develop food waste reduction programs and assist in developing organic waste recycling programs. Encouraging organic waste composting on consumer, commercial, and municipal scales is a critical part of this initiative. 

This federal policy may soon be codified into law. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree recently introduced the Food Recovery Act into Congress, which would be the first bill to regulate and reduce organic waste going to landfills. The bill contains more than two-dozen provisions to encourage the reduction of food and other organic waste at the consumer level, in schools, farms, groceries, and other commercial or government settings, and to reduce the amount of food waste going to landfills by providing grants for composting and aerobic digestion projects, as well as other monetary incentives limited to states that prevent organic waste from going to landfills (H.R. 4184, 114th Cong. 2015-16).

Case Study: California AB-1826.

In October of 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB-1826 into law. The bill phases in a series of mandatory organic waste recycling requirements for all businesses, multi-family dwelling units, and local jurisdictions, with the goal of reducing the amount of organic waste disposed of in California landfills by at least 50% by 2020 (Cal. Pub. Res. Code §§ 42649.8 - 42649.87). The first phase of the law came into force on April 1, 2016, which requires all businesses and multi-family residential dwellings generating eight or more cubic yards of organic waste per week to either arrange for municipal composting or anaerobic gestation, or set up the infrastructure to recycle its organic waste on site (Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 42649.81(a)(1); (b)).

The law expands in scope incrementally, and will require any business that generates four or more cubic yards of organic waste to begin recycling it by January 1, 2017; any business generating more than four total cubic yards of commercial solid waste (organic and inorganic combined) per week to begin recycling organic waste by January 1, 2019; and if statewide disposal of organic waste reduced by at least 50% by 2020, all business that generate only two total cubic yards of commercial solid waste per week must begin recycling organic waste (Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 42649.81(a)(1)-(5)). Local jurisdictions are authorized under the law to implement enforcement provisions for businesses that fail to comply with these mandates, and must report all compliance information to the state. (Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 42649.82(e)(1). Enforcement may include a structure for fines and economic penalties (Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 42649.82(f)(1)). This law is similar to those in other states. 

Future Prediction: Stricter Laws and Penalties Requiring Organic Waste Recycling. 

There is a clear national trend towards stricter regulation of municipal solid waste disposal, and specifically towards mandatory organic waste recycling. Although most laws include phased diversion mandates to ease the transition for industry, states are increasingly choosing to enact outright bans of organics in landfills. As governments begin to assess compliance with new legislation, local agencies will likely enact fines and other penalties to encourage businesses to address their waste disposal programs.

Beyond legal mandates, the national legislative trend suggests that there is a strong social movement towards waste awareness. Citizen consumers are demanding more sustainable organic waste management programs of their lawmakers, and will demand the same of business. To reduce abrupt transition costs, avoid potential monetary penalties, take advantage of new grant monies and tax incentives, meet new market demands, and ensure compliance with the law, organizations should audit their waste stream to assess organic waste recycling options sooner than later.

-Jacquelyn Amour Jampolsky, BS, JD, PhD Environmental Studies

 BioCoTech Americas, LLC, is a Denver based company that distributes in-vessel aerobic composting technology. It does not engage or participate in the practice of law in any way. This opinion is for informational purposes only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice to discuss any particular issue or problem with respect to organic waste disposal and compliance with the federal, tribal, state or local laws.

The Sad Truth About Food Waste.

In the United States, we throw away nearly half of our food. Yep, you read that correctly. About 40% of the food produced in the United States ends up in the trash. And if you are following our posts, you know that trash actually means landfills where it will go to live on as a sad, half-eaten banana from your kids’ lunch, or tragically ugly carrot that never sold at a super market, literally forever. Hopefully, anyway; because if the food does start to break down it is because the landfill was not sealed properly, which also means other toxic things are likely happening as well, such as leachate excretion and greenhouse gas production.

With the amount of hunger in the world, talking about food waste as an increasingly alarming environmental problem seems irresponsible. Yet here we are, adding ironic insult to injury. We use land and resources to produce food, so that we can use more land and resources to keep it in dumps instead of feeding people who are hungry or returning it to the soil where it belongs.

At BioCoTech, we see food waste as a two-part problem: production and process. Focusing on the amount of food we purchase and discard is an essential aspect of solving the organic waste problem in the Americas, as well as an opportunity to think of ways for more equitable distribution. At the same time, some food waste is inevitable. Whether we are talking about inedible bones or meat scraps, vegetable pulp, or spoiled foods, we just can’t eat everything. But at BioCoTech, we believe that where food can’t feed people, it should feed the earth. Food waste is still rich nutrients that can be naturally processed to replenish soil as compost, and used improve food production.

It’s time to change how we think about food waste.  Let’s make less to make more.

How is this still a thing?

The EPA estimates that in 2013 alone, the United States produced 37 million tons of food waste, which comprises the single largest part of our trash that ends up in landfills. That doesn't even include yard trimmings or other organic waste that could be broken down by natural processes. Conservative estimates say that more than one third of solid waste that ends up in landfills could be diverted and processed as compost.

Just to be clear, when you put anything in a landfill, it does not go away--like ever. If the landfill is properly sealed, there is no oxygen to facilitate natural breakdown. You put a banana peel in the trash, and 20 years later you'll still be able to find it in the landfill. So all of those compostable cups and forks you buy made out of corn, have basically zero environmental benefit when you put them in the trash. Moreover, if the landfill isn't properly sealed, organic waste will start to break down anaerobically and release methane and other greenhouse gasses that contribute to global warming.

Recent legislation is attempting to remedy this, but by in large, we still insist on throwing food scraps, yard waste, and a whole range of compostable trash (cutlery, cardboard, dryer lint... the list goes on) into the trash where it is carted away to landfills taking up space and polluting the air and earth. This doesn't just happen in the home, but on a large scale on school campuses, entertainment venues, restaurants, hotels, and etc.

So here is our question: how is this still a thing?

When organic waste is composted through natural processes, it is diverted from landfills and turns into nutrient rich fertilizer that can be used to grow crops and revitalize soil. So let's challenge ourselves to start thinking about how we dispose of our waste, as individuals and as businesses, and more importantly-- to think about what it could become. 

Honestly, it is pretty much all we think about here at BioCoTech Americas. So if you need some help envisioning how to transform your trash from waste into revenue, reach out and let us know.

We love talking trash.

California AB 1826: Continuing Organic Waste Bans

Continuing the trend of banning organic waste from landfill California joins the fight for composting.  Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont let the charge yet other sates are falling in line.

"On September 28, California Governor Jerry Brown signed two landmark pieces of legislation that will lead to significant increases in the amount of organic wastes available for composting and anaerobic digestion. AB 1826, introduced by Assembly Member Wesley Chesbro, requires the state’s commercial sector, including restaurants, supermarkets, large venues and food processors, to separate their food scraps and yard trimmings and arrange for organics recycling service." (BioCycle, 2014)

"Commencing April 1, 2016, businesses that generate 8 cubic yards (cy) or more a week must source separate food scraps and yard trimmings and arrange for recycling services for that organic waste in a specified manner. On January 1, 2017, businesses generating 4 cy or more per week of organics are also subject to the diversion requirement." (BioCycle, 2014)

Why does California want this new law?

" Mandatory recycling of organic waste is the next step toward achieving California’s aggressive recycling and greenhouse gas (GHG) emission goals. California disposes approximately 30 million tons of waste in landfills each year, of which more than 30 percent could be used for compost or mulch" (Cal Recycle, 2015)

"Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions resulting from the decomposition of organic wastes in landfills have been identified as a significant source of emissions contributing to global climate change." (Cal Recycle, 2015)

Its Just the Beginning: The USA's First Food-Waste reduction Goals

Its Time to Get Serious - NPR

"Vilsack [Agriculture Secretary] says food waste isn't just an economic issue — it also is a big contributor of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that fuels climate change. Think about where most of it is tossed: "Basically, it ends up in landfills," Vilsack says. And it's the single greatest contributor to municipal landfills, according to USDA." - NPR

"It's [food waste] enough to fill the Sears Tower [technically now called the Willis Tower] 44 times" - NPR

"And schools, institutions and local governments can do a lot more to cut back on, recover and recycle food waste. In some states and cities, they're already required to. As we've reported, Seattle now fines homeowners for not sorting their garbage. And Massachusetts has implemented a food waste ban for certain institutions, with a handful of other states following suit." - NPR

Listen to the conversation or read the article HERE


Nations First Food Waste Reduction - NRN

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled Wednesday the first-ever national goals for reducing food waste, calling for a 50-percent reduction within 15 years." - NRN

"Food loss and waste is increasingly being spotlighted as a climate change issue." - NRN

"In the U.S., food is the largest component of municipal solid waste, and accounts for a significant portion of methane emissions, the agencies said." - NRN

"The USDA’s Economic Research Service estimated in 2010 that food loss and waste accounts for about 31 percent, or 133 billion pounds — that’s $161 billion worth — of the overall food supply." - NRN

Read the full article HERE


Aubrey, A. (2015, September 16). It's Time To Get Serious About Reducing Food Waste, Feds Say. Retrieved September 18, 2015.

Jennings, L. (2015, September 17). USDA, EPA set nation's first food-waste reduction goals. Retrieved September 18, 2015.

Legislation: Banning Food Waste From Landfills

Massachusetts - The Roadmap

"Because many landfills are reaching capacity and are heavy contributors of greenhouse gases – the Environmental Protection Agency ranks them as the third largest source of methane gas emissions in the US – some policymakers are looking for alternatives." - CSM

"In recent years, a small handful of US cities and states have passed laws aimed at reducing the amount of food waste rotting in landfills. In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to ban commercial food waste from landfills. Vermont followed suit the following year. Seattle, San Francisco, and Portland, Ore., also have commercial food waste bans." - CSM

"Massachusetts’s efforts could potentially become a road map for the rest of the nation, says Dana Gunders, a staff scientist for the NRDC and author of the 2012 report. Diverting food scraps from landfills to composters not only reduces greenhouse gasses given off by rotting food, but also recycles food nutrients into future crops." - CSM

"However, the Massachusetts ban does not specify where the waste must go. And for many, this question is the crux of the matter." - CSM

Read the entire article HERE

Axelrad, J. (1014, November 9). Could Massachusetts food waste ban be a road map for the rest of the country? ( video). Retrieved September 18, 2015.