A Guide for Businesses and Institutions in Massachusetts

Massachusetts’ Commercial Organics Waste Ban, effective October 1, 2014, requires all businesses and institutions disposing of over one ton of commercial organic material per week to divert that organic material from disposal as trash.  Current guidance and answers to frequently asked questions about the ban itself can be found on MassDEP’s website here.

So, how can you tell if your business disposes of one ton of organic waste per week?

The most accurate ways to estimate the total amount of food scraps disposed from a facility are daily tracking programs and comprehensive waste audits.  However, these can take time and may require contracting or purchasing services.  Fortunately, there are a number of simpler methods to estimate your food waste disposal.

If you need assistance at any point, please call the RecyclingWorks hotline at (888) 254-5525 or info@recyclingworksma.com.

estimate food waste 

Use Industry Standards

One simple way to estimate your food waste is to use available industry data. RecyclingWorks has compiled industry data from published reports and studies, which can be used as guidance for facilities with little to no current food waste diversion program in place. If your business is currently tracking or diverting food waste, you may dispose of less food waste than indicated by the industry averages. We will continue to refine and add metrics as updated or improved data becomes available. View a list of the sources used in developing our food waste estimation guide here.

Individual results may vary depending on preparation methods and materials, reuse of leftovers, and type of food service. For example, a tray-less dining policy reduces post consumer food waste in cafeterias compared with traditional tray service. Similarly, full-service, sit-down restaurants are more likely to generate higher volumes of food waste compared to fast-food or take-out restaurants. In addition, the use of a garbage disposal, or similar technology, in a kitchen reduces the overall amount of food material going into the trash.

Click on the industry category listed below that best fits your business, and start estimating your food waste today!

Supermarkets and Grocery Stores

Venues and Events

Note: Food manufacturers and processors are not included in this guide due to the diversity of food waste streams within the industry. If you are a food manufacturer and not already diverting food materials from solid waste disposal, we recommend that you take steps to quantify food waste disposed of from your facility.

Get Hands On

Estimating your business’s food waste stream based on industry averages will help many businesses to know whether or not they are likely to be subject to the commercial organics ban.  However, while the waste ban does not require waste audits or reporting, getting more specific data can be useful to:

  • Provide a more accurate estimate of food waste disposal specific to your business
  • Serve as a baseline for measuring progress towards waste reduction goals
  • Identify additional waste diversion and cost saving opportunities
  • Ensure hauler collection services or on-site equipment can be properly sized to fit your needs, which can help reduce program costs

You can estimate your food scraps disposal without the added cost of a waste audit by conducting a simple version yourself. Look into your trash receptacles throughout the day and gauge how much food waste is visible to generate a rough estimate of the percentage of food waste in your trash based on volume. Then count how many bags of trash come out of your facility or kitchen on a typical day and estimate the average weight of a bag of trash by physically lifting or weighing a few bags. Food waste will usually be the heaviest component of your trash, so as a general rule of thumb, the heavier the bag – the higher the percentage of your trash is food waste. Multiply the number of trash bags by your estimate for the average weight to give you an estimate of your total solid waste disposal in pounds per day.

For example, if you throw out 10 bags of trash per day and are open 7 days a week, that’s a total of 70 trash bags per week.  If you then estimate that each trash bag weighs about 20 pounds, then: 70 bags * 20 lbs = 1,400 lbs of trash per week.  Based on this estimate, your total waste disposal is less than 1 ton per week.  Since your food waste disposal would be lower than that total waste amount, your business would fall below the ban threshold.

Tip: If you are interested in conducting a complete, in-depth waste audit to measure your businesses food waste disposal, learn more here.

Keep Track

Tracking your food waste is very helpful in pinpointing reasons for wasted food and can reduce costs by helping to tailor food purchases, in addition to providing quantitative information on food waste generation and disposal.  Food waste tracking can also provide baseline data for tracking progress towards waste reduction and cost-saving goals.  For a simplified version of food waste tracking, use EPA’s Waste Logbook, a free resource you can print out and use to start tracking and measuring your food waste today.  It records information such as time, food type, reason for disposal, and amount of food wasted.  The logbook can be placed near trash receptacles and should be filled out by employees any time they are disposing of food waste.

If you want to upgrade from pen and paper to a more high-tech tracking technology, several automated options, including Trim Trax and LeanPath, are being used by a variety of businesses to track food waste.  For example, in January 2012, UMass Amherst chose to implement a LeanPath tracking system in two of their main dining halls to monitor food waste and identify waste reduction opportunities.  Within the first 4 months, UMass reduced their food waste by nearly 25 percent and saved over $70,000 due to food waste prevention activities, such as tailoring food purchases and forecasting customer demand.

Tip: If you are interested in tracking and receiving recognition for your total waste reduction or diversion, join EPA’s national WasteWise program and register for the Massachusetts chapter of WasteWise to receive news, invitations to networking events throughout the state, and to become eligible for awards.  For added impact, input your newly calculated food waste tonnage into the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model to estimate the beneficial impact your food waste reduction has on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.