Massachusetts – Commerical Organics Disposal Ban

Massachusetts has a problem: it is running out of landfill capacity and already has disposal fees higher than the national average. Accordingly, Massachusetts plans to reduce the quantity of waste disposed by 30% in 2020, and by 80% in 2050. It expects to do so, in part, through increasing the amount of organic materials it diverts by 350,000 tons each year until 2020. Because organic materials represent 25% of the waste stream, with more than 45% of this material generated by businesses and institutions, Massachusetts has set its sights on commercial generators. Leading the charge on the regulatory front for state level organics disposal bans, Massachusetts now requires large-scale generators to recover and recycle their organic materials.

Massachusetts’ food waste ban was proposed in July 2013, accepted to update the state’s Solid Waste Facility Regulations in January 2014, and went into effect October 1, 2014. The regulatory body responsible for enforcing the ban is the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). More information on Massachusetts’ ban, including detailed guidance materials for businesses, institutions, haulers, and facility operators can be found on the MassDEP website.


Ban Requirements

The following definitions of banned organic materials are presented as they appear in the amendments made to Massachusetts’ Solid Waste Facility Regulations (310 CMR 19.006):

“Commercial Organic Material” means food material and vegetative material from any entity that generates more than one ton of those materials for solid waste disposal per week, but excludes material from a residence.


“Food Material” means material produced from human or animal food production, preparation and consumption activities and which consists of, but is not limited to, fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish and animal products and byproducts.

Generators will be prohibited from disposing, transferring for disposal, contracting for the disposal, or transporting commercial organic material.

Landfills, transfer facilities, and combustion facilities will be prohibited from accepting commercial organic material except to handle, recycle or compost this material in accordance with their individual MassDEP-approved Waste Ban Plan.


Targeted Generators

Under 310 CMR 19.003, Massachusetts regulations require “anyone disposing of, transferring for disposal, contracting for the disposal or transport of” commercial organic material to comply with the ban. Generation of a commercial level of organic waste is defined as those entities disposing of at least one ton per week of organic materials, even if done so only seasonally. Organic materials generated by residences are not included in this definition.

MassDEP’s guidance materials for the Commercial Organics Waste Ban give the following guidelines for some of the commercial and institutional generators who may be affected by the ban, based on generic sector-based estimates:

  • Residential Colleges or Universities with ≥ 730 students
  • Non-residential Colleges or Universities with ≥ 2,750 students
  • Secondary Schools with ≥ 4,000 students
  • Hospitals with ≥ 80 beds
  • Nursing Homes with ≥ 160 beds
  • Restaurants with ≥ 70 or more full time employees
  • Resort/Conference Properties with ≥ 475 seats
  • Supermarkets with ≥ 35 full time employees.


Anticipated Benefits

Focus on Organics Diversion (FOOD), a consortium of industry associations working in Massachusetts, anticipates the ban will:

  • Make MA a leader in sustainable waste management
  • Make use of existing composting industry/facilities (>200 already exist)
  • Continue to build and stimulate investment in existing composting industry
  • Create new in-state jobs in renewable energy
  • Keep money, usually spent on out-of-state recycling, in-state
  • Capture a currently unused, yet valuable resource to improve soil quality, support agriculture, and conserve water
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions due to less waste going to landfills


Building Processing Capacity

In an effort to further encourage organics recycling capacity in Massachusetts, the state government offers various forms of financial assistance and incentives, such as municipal grants through the Sustainable Materials Recovery Program (SMRP). These and other programs began in 2014, when the administration of Governor Patrick announced the availability of up to $3 million in low interest loans for private development and up to $1 million in grants for public development of anaerobic digester capacity in Massachusetts. Additional grants and loans are available to support the expansion of composting capacity.


Other Highlights

Some notable material exclusions from the mandatory ban include compostable paper and garbage disposals in sinks. Compostable paper is not accepted at all facilities. MassDEP encourages generators to check with their hauler or composting facility to find out whether or not they accept these materials. Waste disposed in waste water systems (i.e. in-sink garbage disposals), although local wastewater treatment system restrictions may apply.

The organics waste ban is supported by the RecyclingWorks program in Massachusetts, which is funded by MassDEP. RecyclingWorks provides web-based guidance and informational resources, a phone hotline, and hands-on technical assistance.

The program’s guide for institutions and haulers suggests commercial-scale generators divert food waste from disposal through any combination of the following actions: reducing food waste at their business, donating servable food, installing an on-site organics processing system, or working with a hauler to send source-separated food waste to a farm for use as animal feed, an anaerobic digestion facility, composting site.

Original post from April 24, 2014
Updated March 15, 2016

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Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.