Blog Post

A recent Biocycle article describes how new depackaging facilities across Massachusetts are making it easier for businesses to divert packaged food materials from disposal. Packaged foods may be thrown away when they are out-of-date, mislabeled, damaged, or spoiled.

To cut down on this avoidable waste, new facilities are being developed to efficiently remove food from many forms of packaging. The resulting organic material is separated from packaging and contaminants and, depending on its characteristics, can be used for anaerobic digestion, composting, or animal feed.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) encourages businesses and institutions to donate edible packaged foods and to remove inedible food from packaging whenever possible. However, before depackaging infrastructure developed in Massachusetts, the agency issued exemptions to its food waste disposal ban for generators when it is too difficult or cost-prohibitive to depackage certain foods prior to disposal.

To help make it viable to divert packaged food waste from disposal, MassDEP awarded several Recycling Business Development Grants to companies investing in new depackaging systems. Over the past two years, five depackaging systems have been installed across Massachusetts. MassDEP is now working to connect generators with these facilities rather than granting or renewing existing waivers for packaged foods. RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts recently highlighted one of these depackaging systems, installed at Waste Management’s CORe Facility in Boston.

A recent demonstration project using E.L. Harvey & Sons depackaging system in Westborough aimed to quantify the percentage of packaged food that can be recovered using this system. In a six-hour test period, the system processed almost 28 tons of packaged food. Approximately 16 percent of the processed material was separated packaging which required disposal. In other cases, some packaging can be separated and recycled. The organic slurry was tested in a laboratory, confirming that it is an effective feedstock for producing biogas through anaerobic digestion.

The RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts Find-A-Recycler tool allows food manufacturers, distributors, and retailers to locate depackaging facilities such as Waste Management CORe and E.L. Harvey & Sons. RecyclingWorks also provides technical assistance to help Massachusetts businesses and institutions with food waste reduction and recovery. To speak to a recycling and food recovery expert, call our hotline: (888) 254-5525 or email us at