Gov. Signs Food Waste Bill into Law - One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

For Immediate Release
Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

Governor Murphy recently signed A2371(Singleton) into law. The law requires generators of food waste such as hospitals, prisons, restaurants and supermarkets to recycle food garbage rather than send it to incinerators or landfills. The law will go into effect in 18 months. 

“Signing the food waste bill into law is one step forward and two steps backwards. Food waste is a major problem in New Jersey where 22% of our solid waste consists of food. While there are parts of this law that we like, we have major problems with other areas. We are concerned that biogas is defined as a Class 1 renewable energy, which is it not. Biogas has a dirty life-cycle, especially when it burns, it emits particulates and pollution into the environment, especially impacting EJ communities. Biogas also undermines renewable energy. During the health pandemic, supply chains have been severely impacted and food waste is increasingly growing. Requiring large food waste generators to compost food will help get it out of our waste stream and reduce our greenhouse gases. More importantly, it will help get food waste out of landfills and reduce wasted natural resources and money,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We thank the legislature and Governor Murphy for passing and signing this critical legislation that will help deal with our food waste and the pollution that comes with it.”

Under the law, alternative authorized food waste recycling method” means: (1) recycling food waste at the site at which it is generated as authorized by the Department of Environmental Protection; (2) treating food waste at the site at which it is generated pursuant to a permit issued by the department; (3) sending food waste for offsite use for agricultural purposes, including as animal feed; (4) sending food waste offsite for treatment with sewage sludge in an anaerobic digester for renewable natural gas or biogas recovery as authorized by the department; or (5) any other method of recycling or reuse of food waste, as authorized by the department.

“We do have some concerns, however that DEP can grant a waiver to allow food waste to go to incinerators and landfills, and that biogas is defined as a Class I renewable energy. Defining biogas as a Class I renewable energy is not accurate. Biogas releases greenhouse gases because it requires burning, and it is not renewable because it is generated from waste. Class I renewables should be forms of energy that are actually renewable, like solar, wind, waves, and geothermal,” said Tittel. “We believe that biogas should be defined as a different form of energy, perhaps Class II or something else. Class I renewable energy should continue to define forms of clean, renewable energy that do not produce greenhouse gases.”

The new law 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 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.

“As we work to minimize our food waste, we can also reduce greenhouse gases and move towards zero carbon. Reducing incineration, especially will mean less particulates and toxins in our environment. This is especially important during the pandemic and in EJ communities who serve as dumping grounds for these major polluters. Areas like Newark and Camden have garbage incinerators that emit the greatest amount of lead in the country. In addition, particulate matter, toxic ash, and cyanide are coming out of these incinerators,” said Tittel.“Families and children especially who live by these facilities are being poisoned. Now that Governor Murphy has signed the food waste bill into law, it is important that the state moves forward in getting the mechanisms in place to enforce it.”

The Covanta Camden Energy Recovery Center in New Jersey has received 5 violations for and paid 4 fines in the amount of $7,050, Essex County Incinerator has 3 violations and paid 6 fines in the amount of $90,960. The facility in Rahway has 3 or 4 major fines. All were for exceeding levels for Particulate Matter, Sulfur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide.

“We need to phase out from incinerating our food waste because many of the incinerators in the state are not zero carbon. Of the waste they burn, around 1/3 comes from plastic, which comes from fossil fuels. These facilities need to burn natural gas and plastic to make the fire hot enough to burn wet garbage and food waste. Which means adding more food waste will put more carbon and more particulates in our air. What’s even worse is that half of the waste they are hauling is coming from out of state to keep the facility afloat financially,” said Tittel. “For all of this pollution, however, they generate very little electricity. The Camden facility only generates around 21MW, Newark at 65MW, and Westville at 14MW. We are putting all of these communities at risk and getting dismal output. With this law, the state needs to move forward on not only reducing food waste but transitioning away from incinerator and towards more sustainable practices like anaerobic digestion.”

Using composted food waste as fertilizer enriches soil, helps retain moisture and suppress plant diseases, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers. It also encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter. 

“This law will help curb New Jersey’s food waste problem. In order to reduce and utilize our food waste, New Jersey cannot burn it. Instead we need to be composting and using anaerobic digestion to reduce and reuse food waste in a sustainable way. Converting food to energy could help produce a tremendous amount of energy while reducing methane emissions. We thank Governor Murphy and the legislature for moving passing and signing this bill into law. Now the state must set clear targets to reduce food waste and its emissions. We also need real education programs for hospitals, restaurants, and the public on how to reduce and reuse food waste,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.