The Block Island Times

Rep. Walsh proposes food waste bill

Would increase composting in Rhode Island
By Stephanie Turaj | Jan 17, 2014

State Representative Donna Walsh has proposed new legislation that would reduce Rhode Island’s food waste and increase statewide composting efforts.

According to a press release, the proposed legislation would require Rhode Island businesses, such as restaurants, to separate their food waste from other trash. The businesses would be required to recycle the food themselves, if they have the capability to do so, or they would send the waste to a food recycling facility. The bill does not apply to residential trash.

If Walsh’s bill is passed, its requirements would be phased in. Large waste producers who produce more than one ton of food waste per week would be affected starting in 2015. The law would eventually apply to all Rhode Island businesses and institutions by 2021.

“It probably won’t have too much effect on Block Island immediately,” Walsh told The Block Island Times. “But by the end, when all smaller businesses are affected, it would. Hopefully, by that time, we’ll have enough facilities [for food recycling].”

The press release said the goal of this proposed legislation is to divert material from being sent to Rhode Island’s central landfill, located in Johnston, R.I.

However, Sarah Kite, director of recycling services at Rhode Island Resources Recovery Corporation (RIRRC), said this bill alone would not divert all food waste from entering the landfill, which is managed by RIRRC.

“The legislation is aimed at commercial entities,” she explained. “Commercial waste haulers are not required to bring waste to the landfill. They can bring it out of state.”

The proposed legislation comes a week after representatives from RIRRC spoke with the New Shoreham Town Council about ways to increase food recycling on Block Island. At this meeting, Kite said the Johnston landfill has about 25 years left before it is full and can no longer be used. She suggested the island develop a composting program to help divert municipal and residential waste from being sent to the landfill.

“Anything the island can do to encourage more backyard composting will result in reductions of food waste,” Kite told The Block Island Times. “Composting is beneficial to everybody.”

Walsh said in a statement, “Tossing food scraps in the landfill is wasteful on so many levels. Instead of letting this organic material fill up valuable landfill space, we ought to be looking to Europe’s example and putting our food waste to work. With the proper facilities, it can be used to fuel power plants, and it can always be composted on small and large scales to create fertilizer.”

Walsh said in a statement that she got the idea for her legislation during a recent tour of Quonset Business Park, where a company called NEO Energy is working to establish an anaerobic digestion facility. The facility would accept food waste from businesses. It would use the gasses produced by the waste to generate electricity and heat, and it would use the remaining solid material as organic fertilizer.

“Many Rhode Islanders, in the cities, the suburbs and the rural communities, are already composting at home,” said Walsh in a statement. “It’s easy once you get in the habit, and there are so many benefits. I look forward to generating some healthy public discussion about recycling food scraps this year as we consider this legislation, and I hope we’ll be doing something better with much of the food waste in our state soon.”

According to the press release, Massachusetts and Connecticut have similar requirements aimed at large institutions, and a Vermont law will require recycling of all commercial and residential food waste by 2020.

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