Amid the COVID-19 global pandemic and economic slump, Gov. Phil Murphy approved a bill on Tuesday evening that would ramp up recycling requirements for unused and wasted food.
The newly signed Assembly Bill 2371 requires large generators of food waste – such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets – to recycle food garbage rather than send it to incinerators or landfills. The measure goes into effect in 18 months.
At its core, the bill 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.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-17th District, the bill’s main sponsor, argued that the legislation would create an entirely new industry, revolving around environmentally conscious food recycling, rather than letting it sit in a landfill where it would produce methane gas. In the years to follow, the booming industry would drive down costs and vastly outdo any expenses that businesses might incur in the near future, according to Smith.
“It’s not only progressive environmentally, but it’s very good in terms of starting new industries,” Smith told NJBIZ.
Smith said that because the bill does not kick in for nearly two years, that should buy state and local officials and business executives time to first contain the COVID-19 outbreak and bounce back economically, before getting this new industry started.
“This might be one of the pieces of that recovery, new industries, new jobs. Certainly not by itself, it’s not going to do that, but it’s a new industry for the state,” Smith said.
To halt the spread of the virus, Murphy over the past month enacted a ban on any public gatherings, a prohibition on most travel, and the closure of any “non-essential retail,” including dine-in restaurants.
Although take-out and delivery are still allowed, many restaurants have still opted to indefinitely shutter their windows. Mass unemployment and stay-at-home orders have prompted hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans to reign in their spending.
“Our food system, our food supply chain system is being taxed in ways it never has been before,” Doug O’Malley, director of the advocacy group Environment New Jersey, told NJBIZ. “We will recover and we need to be thinking about a more sustainable way to dispose of food waste.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that upwards of 40 percent of food is never eaten, while up to 38 million tons of food – equaling $168 billion – are thrown away each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, a legislative snafu would have allowed food-recycling to include placing the waste in landfills and incinerators. Murphy vetoed the bill over the summer because he worried those exemptions “severely weakened” it.
Smith agreed, contending that he only allowed the carve outs into the proposal in order to get the bill through the state Legislature.
According to the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, the new law could likely translate into “potentially significant” cost increases for universities across the state to comply with the new rules. It could also mean new costs for state and local governments.
Businesses and other entities, like municipalities, could apply for a waiver for the new requirements if costs of transporting the waste are at least 10 percent more than the costs of sending it to a landfill—as they would have done prior to the law’s enactment.
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.
However, there are dozens more solid waste disposal sites – more commonly known as landfills – and the bill allows large food waste generators to also send refuse to one of these facilities if they are not within 25 miles of one of the four facilities.
Entities can also separate and then compost their refuse on-site with anaerobic digesters or another acceptable means of recycling.