Bill mandating some food waste recycling in RI approved

Legislation that would usher in an era of mandatory food waste recycling won final approval in the General Assembly on Thursday.

Both the House and the Senate approved bills that require institutions that produce two or more tons of food residuals a week to divert the waste from going to the state’s Central Landfill by 2016. Instead, they must either compost the material on site, have it hauled away for agricultural purposes such as animal feed or send it to a compost facility or waste-to-energy plant.

Since food recycling is just beginning to gain momentum around the country — some nearby states have embraced similar legislation — the mandate will not apply to institutions until a food waste handler opens for business no more than 15 miles away from where they’re located.

“This legislation is an invitation to entrepreneurs who will know that locating in Rhode Island will guarantee a market for their services.,” Sen. Cool Rumsey, D — Exeter, Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton, West Greenwich, said in a statement.

NEO Energy of New Hampshire announced last fall that it would like to build a 500-kilowatt anaerobic food digester at the Quonset Business Park. Methane from the food waste would be used to generate electricity.

Earth Care Farm, in Charlestown, is the only large-scale food-scrap composting operation in Rhode Island.

The law applies to higher educational institutions, restaurants, commercial food wholesaler and distributors, industrial food manufacturers and processors, supermarkets, resorts, conference centers, banquet halls, religious institutions, military installations, prisons, corporations, hospitals and casinos

State Rep. Donna Walsh, D-Charlestown, Westerly, South Kingstown, New Shoreham, sponsored the companion bill in the House.

“It’s foolish to allow organic materials to take up a huge portion of our limited, valuable landfill space when those materials are so useful,” she said in a statement. “This bill will extend our landfill’s life, while boosting agriculture and the green business sector, creating jobs and products right here in Rhode Island.”