In 2014, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) established a solid waste disposal ban that applies to businesses and institutions disposing one ton or more of food waste per week. Effective November 1, 2022, the MassDEP lowered the threshold for the commercial organics ban so that it applies to businesses and institutions generating one-half ton or more food waste per week.
Hundreds of businesses and institutions have already taken steps to reduce and divert food waste from disposal, relying on a variety of different options. In the process, they have been able to reduce their disposal cost and sometimes reduce purchasing costs as well.
Learn more about the commercial organics waste ban and the RecyclingWorks assistance available, including our Food Waste Estimation Guide. To further help businesses comply with the organics waste ban, RecyclingWorks has developed the following sector-specific tip sheets. These tip sheets are intended to help businesses stay in compliance with the state waste bans for organics as well as other materials. If you are interested in having any of these materials translated into another language, please contact RecyclingWorks at (888) 254-5525 or email@example.com.
This page summarizes the array of options available to reduce and divert food waste from disposal and provides links to resources to learn more about the issue and help you take the next step in starting or improving an organics diversion program.
Reducing the volume of food waste produced is a great starting point to divert organic waste and save money. Options to reduce organic waste generated include tracking where and how food is wasted, reducing the number of menu items, providing flexible portioning choices, discounting items close to expiration at supermarkets, tailoring both the quantity and timing of food deliveries, and utilizing proper food storage techniques.
- For guidance on ways to reduce food waste produced, see the MassDEP report Reducing Food Waste: A How to Guide for Businesses and Institutions.
- For a national perspective on food waste reduction strategies, see the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.
- Visit the EPA’s page on Sustainable Management of Food for strategies, success stories, and webinars on commercial food waste reduction and prevention.
Donating good quality surplus food keeps this valuable material out of the landfill and on the plates of those in need in your community. Learn more about starting a food donation program at your place of business.
- For a list of food banks and food rescue organizations in Massachusetts, see our food donation guide.
- For a list of food pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens near you, use the Find a Food Pantry search tool.
- For general donation guidance and case studies in food donation, see the EPA’s website.
- For a list of national donation charities and information on federal laws that encourage food donations, see USDA’s website.
- The “Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act” (Public Law 104-210) protects donors from liability when donating to nonprofit organizations and protects donors from civil and criminal liability should the product donated in good faith later cause harm to the needy recipient.
Processing organic waste involves either investing in technology to reduce or compost food waste on site or contracting with a hauler to transport food waste to an off-site facility.
On-Site organics waste processing can save money in hauling fees by either reducing the frequency of pickups or by negating the need for an organic waste hauler all together. These systems do require an initial investment in technology and ongoing equipment maintenance and operation costs. Composting or other on-site systems can be a good fit for a facility that has grounds and landscaping where the processed food material can be added to an existing composting operation or where hauler collection routes for food waste are limited. Potential types of on-site systems include compost units, dehydrators, pulpers, waste water-based systems, and anaerobic digesters.
For a directory of available on-site technologies for managing food waste, see our compiled list of On-Site Systems for Managing Food Waste. Please note that RecyclingWorks or MassDEP does not endorse any of the companies or technologies represented in this document, and the information included has not been verified by MassDEP.
In September 2021, the US EPA published a report summarizing the available data on five different categories of food waste pre-processing technologies used by businesses and institutions. The report evaluates whether these technologies encourage food waste recycling or reduce the environmental impact of food waste. See the one-page summary and full report available through the EPA’s Food Waste Research webpage.
Off-site options require contracting with a hauler to transport food materials to an off-site facility. Potential types of facilities and uses include:
- The MassDEP map of Sites Accepting Diverted Food Material lists all permitted food residuals processors located in Massachusetts. These include:
- Farms for animal feed
- Compost sites
- Anaerobic digesters
- Rendering/biodiesel operations – for fats, oils, and grease
- MassDEP list of Businesses Managing Packaged Food Material
Different off-site facilities can accommodate varied types of material. For example, some compost sites will accept compostable paper and waxed cardboard with food waste, whereas farms that want to use food material for animal feed will not want paper mixed with food waste. When evaluating off-site options, it is important to work closely with your hauler and the receiving facility to ensure that you are properly separating materials to meet that facility’s needs.
Food manufacturers, distributors, supermarkets, and other facilities may encounter large quantities packaged food and beverages that cannot be sold or donated, often because the products are out-of-date, mislabeled, damaged, or spoiled. Packaged food is subject to the commercial organics waste ban and can be diverted from disposal through a process called depackaging.
Processing facilities with depackaging equipment are able to separate packaging materials and other contaminants from the organic food or liquid waste. Once separated, the organic waste is sent for anaerobic digestion, composting, or animal feed. There are multiple ways that depackaging facilities accept and process material, depending on the product or packaging type. Check with your end-site to learn what types of packaged items they can accept, and ask whether they require pre-approval, offer pick-up or drop-off, or accept last-minute loads. Pricing may vary depending on the amount of packaging that needs to be separated from the organic material. If your business has any type of packaged food products, it is important to establish a relationship with a depackaging facility so that you have a plan in place for off-spec products or when an unexpected emergency occurs, such as a broken refrigeration truck.
Click here to view a list of organizations accepting packaged food material from Massachusetts businesses.
- For a directory of small-scale organics-to-energy vendors, see Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s report.
- For a directory of in-vessel technology vendors, see the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery website.
Learn how RecyclingWorks helped the Lenox Hotel in Boston estimate current food waste volumes and develop a successful food waste diversion program in their three on-site restaurants.
Learn how RecyclingWorks helped the Gardner Ale House establish a successful program to divert food waste to an off-site pig farm in advance of the commercial organics ban.
Learn about how RecyclingWorks helped Worcester State University set up a successful off-site composting program to comply with the commercial organics waste ban and divert 60 tons of food waste annually:
- For help finding a hauler or processor for recyclable materials in your area, search our Find a Recycler directory.
- For information on the location and contact information of all permitted food residuals processors located in Massachusetts, see this MassDEP Sites Accepting Diverted Food Material map and table.
- For guidance on starting a food waste diversion program in the hospitality industry, see our Restaurant Guide.
- For more guidance on starting a food waste diversion program see additional RecyclingWorks guidance on food waste and starting a program.
- For more information on anaerobic digestion systems and how they work, see MassDEP’s website.