New Jersey Enacts Food Waste Recycling Mandate – Implementation Issues on Horizon

New Jersey Enacts Food Waste Recycling Mandate – Implementation Issues on Horizon

This article first appeared in Waste360.

People in New Jersey sent 1.3 million tons of food waste to landfills and incinerators in 2017, according to an estimate from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (“NJDEP”). However, efforts to reduce food waste in the state recently received a boost as Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation April 14th that among other things, will require certain commercial and institutional entities to source-separate and recycle food waste. 

In so doing, New Jersey joins six other states and several cities across in the U.S. that have enacted food waste recycling laws. The other states are California, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New York. The Garden State now is poised to reap the environmental, economic, and social benefits that stem from food waste reduction efforts, but a number of questions regarding the implementation of the new law remain to be resolved.

Overview of New Jersey’s Food Waste Recycling Law

The New Jersey legislation will require “large food waste generators” (i.e., certain commercial and institutional entities that generate at least 52 tons/year of food waste at a single location) to source- separate and recycle food waste at an appropriate facility. To protect businesses from excess costs as a result of this requirement, large food waste generators must comply with the mandate only if: (1) generator is located within 25 miles of a recycling facility with sufficient capacity to accept the waste, and (2) the cost of transporting and processing the food waste at the recycling facility does not exceed 110 percent of the cost of transporting and disposing of the food as solid waste (e.g., at a landfill). A generator also may comply with the recycling mandate by recycling its food waste on-site through composting or anaerobic digestion, or by recycling the food waste through alternative approved means. The recycling mandate goes into effect in October 2021.

It is important to note that the legislation contains other provisions that will lend much needed support to the market for products and energy generated by food waste recycling in New Jersey. Specifically, these other provisions:

The next step is for the NJDEP to propose regulations to implement the new law, although it is not clear when the NJDEP will propose these regulations. The law itself requires these regulations to include certain administrative requirements; these include (a) recordkeeping and reporting requirements for generators and recycling facilities, (b) guidelines for businesses to follow to determine whether they are subject to the food waste recycling mandate, (c) a list of food waste products that must be recycled, standards for on-site composting or digestion of food waste by generators, and (d) procedures for generators to petition for a waiver of the recycling requirement if recycling costs exceed 110 percent of the cost of transporting and disposing of the food as solid waste.

Questions Regarding Implementation of the Food Waste Recycling Mandate

As we await these regulations, and the implementation of the law itself, questions remain to be resolved:  

There are a few other food waste recycling facilities in the state that operate pursuant according to Research Demonstration and Design Permits, which are intended to be temporary authorizations with fewer requirements than a Class C recycling permit, permit. There are still and still others that operate pursuant according to limited approvals or exemptions. 

While a couple of the food waste recycling facilities in New Jersey are quite large and can accept several hundred tons of food waste per day, they certainly are not large enough to accept all of the food waste generated in the state. As a result, the recycling infrastructure will need to expand. However, the siting and permitting of a recycling facility in New Jersey can take 12-24 months, and the NJDEP recently reported that no new food waste recycling facilities are in the permitting pipeline. (The NJDEP is working on new regulations to streamline the permitting process and create a tiered permitting program that takes into account the size and type of facility, but these regulations have not yet been proposed.)

Notably, it does not expressly include community composting or upcycling of food waste (i.e., using food that would have otherwise gone to waste to make a new food product or ingredient that’s available to consumers). The exclusion of upcycled food from the definition reflects the particular challenges faced by the growing upcycled food industry, as laws are not typically drafted to regulate upcycled food. Will the NJDEP propose regulations that expand the list of “Alternative Authorized Food Waste Recycling Methods” to include a blanket approval for community composting, upcycled food and other alternative methods of addressing food waste? Doing so would provide generators with more certainty as they determine how best to address food waste, rather than requiring each generator to seek clarification from the NJDEP.

Despite these open questions, supporters of food waste reduction in New Jersey and beyond are in a hopeful mood. It is time to look to the future and embrace the broad benefits of food waste recycling and reduction.