Food waste and yard trimmings combined accounted for nearly 34 percent of the municipal solid waste generated in the U.S. in 2018, the most recent year for which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published data.

When disposed of in landfills, this organic material produces methane. According to the EPA, methane is the second-most abundant anthropogenic, or human-caused, greenhouse gas (GHG) after carbon dioxide and accounts for approximately 20 percent of global GHG emissions. While methane places second in terms of abundance, it is much more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its ability to trap heat in the atmosphere.

It’s no wonder so many cities and states have introduced measures to address food waste and yard trimmings.

According to the U.S. Composting Council, yard debris is banned from landfills in Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have mandated food scrap collection or legislation designed to keep this material out of landfills. California requires its municipalities to create organics diversion plans as of the start of this year.

In this issue of Waste Today, we look at organics more closely, including California’s regulation, processing methods and collection issues.

Regarding collection, New York City faces challenges in this area given its stop-and-start traffic, one-way streets and space restrictions that affect the ability to efficiently collect material. That is why the city is experimenting with the use of “smart bins” it has deployed in Astoria and lower Manhattan. These bins offer a small footprint that allows for the placement of numerous bins to be collected by standard-sized trucks. For more details on this technology, read “If you can make it there.”

Space considerations also factor into a project underway in Connecticut with Atlas Organics. For more on the company’s EASP Modular Unit and the extended aerated static pile approach to composting, see “A self-contained solution.”

In addition to greatly reducing methane emissions, composting benefits the environment in other ways. It reduces and can even eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers; promotes higher crop yields; aids in reforestation, wetlands restoration and habitat revitalization by improving contaminated, compacted and marginal soils; enhances water retention in soils; and provides carbon sequestration. All these benefits associated with compost are good arguments for expanding efforts to divert food waste and yard trimmings from landfills to composting programs, particularly when the methane reduction achieved in the process is included.