MassDEP Changes Rules to Spur Increased Use of Organics for Recycling, Composting and Renewable Energy Production

The Patrick-Murray Administration issued final rules amending its solid waste and wastewater regulations, a move designed to tap the hidden energy value of food and other organic materials, and use more of that waste for renewable energy production and composting.
More than one million tons of food waste and other organic material are disposed of every year by food processors, large institutions and residential sources in Massachusetts. Approximately 100,000 tons of organics are recycled or composted each year, but the state has set a goal of diverting an additional 350,000 tons per year by 2020.

“Organics comprise about 25 percent of the solid waste we dispose of each year, and those materials take up valuable space in our landfills and incinerators and create greenhouse gases,” said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “When we merely discard organics, we are wasting a great opportunity to capture the economic and environmental benefits from recycling and converting this material into clean renewable energy and valuable fertilizers.”
The amended rules remove barriers to the development of certain types of recycling, composting and other cutting-edge green technologies in the Commonwealth, such as anaerobic digestion (AD), a technology that turns organic materials into a biogas that can be used for heat and electricity generation. The final rules simplify the process for obtaining a state permit for constructing these types of facilities, and for adding organic material to AD units at wastewater treatment plants. The rules also implement environmental performance standards to ensure that these facilities do not compromise public health or the environment, or cause nuisances.
The final rules will also encourage generators to separate organics from their waste stream and to recycle, compost or convert this material to energy, which will help to build a system to collect the organic materials from the generators, and encourage the construction or expansion of composting or anaerobic digestion facilities.

“Massachusetts has made huge advances in wind and solar power since Governor Patrick took office – with both technologies going from just over three megawatts each in 2007 to 174 megawatts of solar and 61 megawatts of wind power across the state today. Meanwhile, our pace-setting energy efficiency efforts have won us the number one ranking nationally from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy two years in a row,” Department of Energy Resources Commissioner Mark Sylvia said. “The largely untapped potential of anaerobic digestion is an opportunity to build on this success, and these new regulations will ensure a significant role for AD in our portfolio of clean energy technologies.”

The increased diversion of organic materials from the waste stream will help the Commonwealth reach its goal of reducing all solid waste that is disposed of by two million tons per year by 2020. It will also increase the energy generation at AD units at wastewater treatment plants with the addition of organics, and save money for cities and towns on trash disposal and energy costs.
These rules build upon incentives that the legislature provided last summer, when it enacted an energy bill that gives electricity generated through anaerobic digestion the same financial incentives as wind and solar power, such as the ability to sell excess power back at favorable rates.

“New technologies and processes make it possible to stem the flow of solid waste into landfills and generate clean energy,” said Sen. Benjamin Downing, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “This change in regulation is a positive step toward increased implementation of these innovative green technologies in the Commonwealth.”

“Food waste and other organic materials represent fuel sources for renewable energy production that are frequently unrealized,” said Sen. Marc R. Pacheco, Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “These rules are a step toward making it easier to better take advantage of these intriguing energy opportunities.”

“I applaud the administration for continuing to advance common sense policies that encourage the efficient reduction of waste,” said Rep. John Keenan, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “Organic material is a large part of the Commonwealth’s waste stream and presents a natural opportunity to realize significant waste reduction. Embracing technologies like anaerobic digestion will decrease the amount of organic waste we send to landfills and incinerators and provide a reliable and renewable source of energy production.”

“Our cities, towns and the environment benefit from the proactive steps the Patrick Administration continues to make,” said Rep. Anne Gobi, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture. “It is a poor use of financial resources to fill up landfills with organic waste that can be utilized for energy production. MassDEP should be commended for their role in creating new avenues and incentives to properly manage waste.”

The new rules also complement other efforts to promote this technology, such as identifying suitable sites for AD on state land to allow state facilities to beneficially reuse food wastes at on-site digesters and receive energy back, and assisting the private sector and local governments with the development of the infrastructure for collecting organics from generators. In addition, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC), a publically-funded agency dedicated to promoting clean energy technologies, funds feasibility studies and grants for AD projects across the state.

“Anaerobic digestion takes clean energy to the next level – not only does it create reliable and consistent clean energy, but it also reduces waste and creates valuable products,” said MassCEC CEO Alicia Barton McDevitt. “Clean energy generation comes in many forms and these regulations will help anaerobic digestion facilities become an increasing part of our clean energy mix here in Massachusetts.”

MassDEP is also working to add organic materials from large generators and institutions to the list of materials banned from disposal at landfills and incinerators by 2014, a move that would ensure a steady stream of organic materials for those who invest capital in building anaerobic digestion facilities.

Currently, there are six AD facilities now in use at wastewater treatment plants in Massachusetts. There are also a few AD units used by commercial food processors. Under the new rules, those facilities could add organics to these existing digesters to boost the biogas generation and increase the energy produced, and save money on energy costs to operate the plants.
Other facilities such as dairies, breweries, juice producers and other food manufacturing operations create a high-quality organics material stream and could take advantage of the new rules by constructing new AD facilities or by adding their materials to a wastewater treatment plant or other AD unit accepting organics. There are currently two farm-based AD units in operation: Jordan Dairy in Rutland, which digests manure generated on-site, combined with organics generated off-site; and Pine Island Farm in Sheffield, which primarily manages manure with a small quantity of dairy processing waste.

There are also 221 compost sites registered with MassDEP, 23 of which are currently approved to take in some food wastes. In addition, approximately 70 agricultural composting sites are registered with the Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR).
“We look forward to continued collaboration with our sister agencies in exploring ways that agriculture can play a role in sustainable waste management and meeting our clean energy goals,” said DAR Commissioner Greg Watson.

MassDEP is working with DOER, MassCEC and DAR to provide assistance to a number of project proponents looking to divert organics to anaerobic digestion at publicly and privately owned sites across the Commonwealth. For more information on available financial and technical assistance for AD projects, go to: