Legislation aimed at boosting food recycling in New Jersey faces an uncertain future as lawmakers struggle to address many of the same issues which ultimately doomed the bill last year.
Senate Bill 865 – whose lower house version was approved by Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee on Thursday – would require large generators of food waste, such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets, to recycle food garbage rather than sending it to incinerators or landfills.
At its core, the proposal requires generators of more than 52 tons of food per year to separate food waste and send it to the closest authorized recycling facility within 25 miles.
The measure’s subsequent move would be a full Assembly vote – with the next Assembly voting session on Feb. 25. Meanwhile, the state Senate was slated to vote on the measure at its Feb. 10 session despite no committee hearing, but the bill was pulled and the next voting session is not until March 5.
S865 could translate into “potentially significant” cost increases for universities across the state to comply with the new rules, according to a Feb. 13 analysis from the Office of Legislative Services. Moreover, the proposal could also lead to more expenses for state and local governments thanks to a waiver meant to take the pressure off businesses and municipalities that might not be able to eat the costs of the new law.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, who sponsored the measure, assured that the food waste recycling industry would explode in the years following the bill’s approval, thereby driving down the costs and vastly outdoing any expenses that businesses may incur.
The OLS statement indicated that a provision allowing businesses to apply for a waiver of the new requirements, if costs of transporting the waste are at least 10 percent of the costs of sending it to a landfill, as they typically would have done prior to the law’s enactment, would allow many state and local governments to ultimately avoid new costs and compliance with the law.
“The extra 10 percent may induce people not to comply but also from a market perspective rather than having recycling and trying to reduce their costs, it encourages people to increase their costs to 10 percent,” Ray Cantor, vice president of government affairs at the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, told lawmakers earlier this month.
Given the scarcity of existing food waste recycling centers, a vast majority of businesses would be left to their own devices to separate and recycle the excess food, be it via an anaerobic digester or an unspecified “alternative authorized food waste recycling method.” Those facilities would be reclassified under state law to be regarded as “renewable energy” and treated the same as windmills and solar panels, because of the anaerobic digestion’s production of methane gas.
“So what happens if I’m not within 25 miles, what happens to my waste?” Assemblyman Rob Karabinchak, D-18th District, said at the Thursday hearing.
According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there are four food waste facilities across the state – Trenton Renewable Power in Trenton, Republic Services of New Jersey in Middlesex, Waste Management of New Jersey in Elizabeth and Gloucester City Organic Recycling in Gloucester City – but there are dozens more solid waste disposal sites. And the bill allows large food waste generators to also send refuse to one of these facilities.
Many critics of the measure are pushing for an exemption to be reinserted into the bill that would allow disposal of food in landfills or trash incinerators to count as recycling. Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the bill over the summer because he worried those exemptions “severely weakened” the bill.
Smith agreed, conceding that he only inserted the provisions to appease Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, who wanted to add in the provision for landfills, and Assemblyman James Kennedy, D-22nd District, who added the provision for incinerators. But while Kennedy has stepped back from his insistence on the incinerators, Sarlo has nonetheless insisted on the landfill exemption.r