Lawmakers having another go at food waste recycling bill (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 4, 2020

Lawmakers having another go at food waste recycling bill (updated)

Daniel J. Munoz//February 4, 2020

An Assembly panel approved a bill Monday aimed at boosting food waste recycling in the state, after the governor vetoed the bill last session amid worries that last-minute amendments could undermine its effectiveness.

The Legislature’s revival of Assembly Bill 2371 would require large generators of food waste – such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets – to recycle their food garbage rather than sending it to incinerators or landfills.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that upward of 40 percent of food is never eaten and simply thrown away, while up to 38 million tons of food – equaling $168 billion – are thrown away each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A2371 would also require anyone that produces more than 52 tons of food waste a year to separate it from other solid waste and send it to an “authorized food waste recycling facility” where the food could either be composted, or moved to a waste-to-energy facility such as an anaerobic digester.

“This legislation will help reduce and reuse food waste in a sustainable way. Converting food to energy will produce a tremendous amount of energy while reducing methane emissions,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, an environmental group, said in a Monday statement.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee approved it in a 4-0 vote with two abstentions on Feb. 3, while the lower house version, Senate Bill 865, has not yet had a hearing date.

Committee Chair, Senator Bill Smith speaks during the Senate Select Committee on Economic Growth Strategies in Trenton, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. -AARON HOUSTON

Chairs of the Senate Environment Committee and S865’s main sponsor Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, said that the main goal of the legislation is to stimulate the state’s market around green technology.

Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the prior session’s version of the bill because of last-minute exemptions which he said “severely weakened” the legislation by allowing the disposal of food in landfills or incinerators to count as recycling.

Both are considered by the EPA as the dirtiest and least environmentally effective ways to dispose of food waste.

“I am concerned that these two exemptions will disproportionately impact environmental justice communities that are already overburdened by waste facilities, especially incinerators which emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming,” Murphy said in his veto statement.

Smith agreed and conceded 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.

Kennedy contended that the incinerator in his city of Rahway produces a massive chunk of the region’s electricity. But he told NJBIZ on Feb. 4 that he wanted to see the bill make it past Murphy’s desk rather than “going in a big circle.”

Sarlo said he was adamant that the bill, at the very least, needed to offer some kind of protection for the state’s landfills, which would come in the form of an exemption.

Sen. Paul Sarlo at the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting on May 14, 2019.
Sen. Paul Sarlo at the New Jersey Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee meeting on May 14, 2019. – AARON HOUSTON

“The [Department of Environmental Protection] has encouraged these landfills, both municipal and privately owned landfills, to invest in methane gas collections. You can’t just dry up the food waste in those facilities. They’ve made an investment, they were encouraged to make these investments,” Sarlo told NJBIZ. “You can’t just take somebody’s private investment, or even a public investment.”

Smith contended that neither exemption would be added into this new version of the legislation.

He and other opponents of that exemption argued that the food, should it be sent to landfills, would rot and release methane into the atmosphere, while incineration was hardly any better for the environment.

“That’s absolutely the wrong way to go,” Smith said of the landfill and incineration exemptions. “The bill is in very good shape… and it’s going to generate a whole new industry.”

The bill requires large food waste generators to send the food to the closest authorized recycling facility within 25 miles. If one site does not exist within that distance, and the costs of transporting the waste are at least 10 percent of the costs of sending them to any landfill as per usual, the company can apply for a waiver to the new bill.

“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 on Monday.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 4:51 p.m. EST on Feb. 4, 2020 to include comments from state Sen. Paul Sarlo.