Composting and food waste recovery are drivers of economic growth and vital tools in mitigating climate change and protecting watersheds like Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. HB264 and SB483, bills introduced this year in Maryland’s General Assembly, have the potential to be the engine to drive the expansion of a host of Maryland’s existing small businesses focused on this growing area of the national economy.
Food waste represents approximately 24 percent of what is landfilled and incinerated, and more than 40 percent of food is wasted. Diverting those nutrient-rich materials from disposal sites creates a new product (compost!) and nourishes our soils for healthier food and cleaner waters. Compost adds needed organic matter to soil, sequesters carbon in soil, improves plant growth, conserves water, reduces reliance on chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and helps prevent nutrient runoff and soil erosion. Healthy soils are considered vital to stem climate impacts because they act as a carbon sink.
Of the estimated 840,000 plus tons of food waste generated per year by Maryland residents and businesses (reported in the Maryland Infrastructure Study Group
was recovered. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future estimates there are nearly 4,000 large food scrap generators located across Maryland. They include supermarkets, hotels, universities, food processing facilities, and food distribution warehouses. These entities could recycle more if more facilities existed and such facilities were within a reasonable distance.
HB 264, the Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion Food Residuals Act (and its companion Senate version SB483), gives businesses in Maryland that generate large amounts of food waste — more than 4,000 pounds of food waste in a week — two years to divert that waste from disposal and provides flexibility on how material can be managed.
Food waste generators can prevent waste, they can donate food to feed people, they can compost on-site, they can send their excess food to a farmer, or a combination of all of these along with other strategies. The bill only requires certain large food waste generators to comply if there is a composting or other food waste recycling facility within 30 miles of their location as of the effective date of January 2023. The bill does not require generators to use that facility, but only to avoid disposal of food waste if a facility is found within 30 miles. The bill intends to create regional and hyper local solutions to reuse as much excess food to encourage localized distribution of facilities.
This bill will create opportunities for green entrepreneurs and jobs in Maryland. A study of the Maryland industry by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance showed that composting creates four times as many jobs on a per-ton basis as landfilling and trash incineration.
Passage of HB264/SB483 would not only create more Maryland jobs but would also be an incentive for more entrepreneurs to enter the compost business, especially in areas of Maryland that are “compost deserts” — areas that do not have composting facilities near enough to encourage residents and businesses to reuse their excess food and food scraps in beneficial ways.
This bill is an important step to empowering existing businesses to reduce and divert waste (resources!) for beneficial uses, instead of throwing them away, and will encourage more new businesses. HB264 is a critical bill for Maryland to grow green jobs. The Maryland Department of the Environment spent two years studying needed infrastructure but stopped short of recommending food waste recycling requirements similar to those in place in other states. It is now up to the Legislature
Linda Norris-Waldt is on the networking/outreach committee for the MD-DC Compost Council, which is a chapter of the U.S. Composting Council that is advocating for the compost industry in Maryland.