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, in 2013, Massachusetts planned to reduce the quantity of waste disposed by 30% in 2020, and by 80% in 2050, from a 2008 baseline level. In working toward achieving this goal, they targeted food waste, resulting in a reduction of 180,000 tons of food waste per year between 2008 and 2018.  Because organic materials represented 25% of the waste stream, with more than 45% of this material generated by businesses and institutions, Massachusetts 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-half 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 are prohibited from disposing, transferring for disposal, contracting for the disposal, or transporting commercial organic material. Effective November 2022, the ban threshold was updated from one ton of commercial organic material generated per week to one-half ton of commercial organic material per week.

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-half 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 gives guidelines for some of the commercial and institutional generators who may be affected by the ban, clarifying that the ban threshold is based on commercial organic material disposal on a weekly basis. So, if a business exceeds the threshold for any week, even if only for part of the year, it would be subject to the ban.

Affected generators may include:

  • College or Corporate Campuses
  • Restaurants and Chain Businesses
  • One-time or seasonal events such as Fairs
  • Certain Catering Businesses
  • Hospitals
  • Supermarkets

For assistance calculating if a specific generator would be affected by the ban, MassDEP in collaboration with RecyclingWorks MA have created a Food Waste Estimation Tool.


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, including a food waste estimation tool, a phone hotline, and hands-on technical assistance.

The program’s guides 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.


Further Reading

Original post from April 24, 2014
Updated November 11, 2022

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Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.