Last week, the Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) held its Fall Conference in Providence Rhode Island over two days to a packed venue. With a focus on “A Resourceful Future for Sustainable Materials Management”, the event covered EPR, organics recycling, sustainable materials management, and other topics that the industry is dealing with today. This very informative conference kicked off with an intro by Meghan Fontes, Executive Director of NERC, who introduced not only what the event would be covering, but also thanked the sponsors, NERC team, Board of Directors, Event Planning Committee, and advisory members. She then introduced the Mayor of Providence, Brett Smiley, who gave his welcome remarks.
Welcome Remarks and Keynote Address
Smiley expressed his thanks to NERC and told attendees to be sure to visit the great sights, restaurants, and get the feel of the big city in a smaller town. He said there was a lot of work underway in Providence. The trend around the country is positioning smaller cities for having their moment in the decade to come and we need to ensure that sustainability and resilience is programmed into everything we are doing. We are living with the effects of climate change on a daily basis and need to rapidly change our infrastructure. He explained that in Providence, they are working on strong investments in water and sewer systems, building codes, etc. In 2019 and 2020, the city had gone through a really robust climate program, and they are continuing to embrace that plan. They are banding together with the communities in Rhode Island for an aggregation program to supply contracts to increase the number of renewables to increase electric bills, hurricane barriers, and critical pieces of infrastructure to protect downtown, such as storm gates and stormwater improvements. The city also received an EPA grant that will advance recycling and waste diversion from landfill and they are dramatically expanding their composting program on a commercial scale by working with Providence-based businesses. While they pride themselves on their culinary scene, by helping to divert food waste, they can extend life of landfill; they are also focusing on waste related education and a center for ecotechnology. In addition, the city is working on variety of education programs, including a project with school students where they pitch ideas to students and then the students give their opinions on how it would work—the goal is to get them excited about trash. The city is also working with commercial corridors for shopping and piloting a recycling program that includes mitigating overflowing dumpsters, providing free recycling and diverting waste from the landfill. This will be tested out in a couple of places next summer and then expand. Curbside pickup will also be rolling out to residents within the next year. The ultimate goal is to not only meet the goals of the climate change plan, but also being a carbon neutral city by 2050. Smiley was excited to hear some of the discussions coming out of the NERC conference that would help plan the next 50 to 100 years.
Up next, the Keynote Address on Eco-Modulation: Restoring the Incentives for Eco-Design in Extended Producer Responsibility? was given by Reid Lifset, Research Scholar and Resident Fellow in Industrial Ecology at the Yale School of the Environment. After defining eco-modulation, he pointed out that there is an EPR Reference Database that has 1,400 resources and is open to the public. There are 400 EPR systems around the world. However, the problem is that collective EPR limits incentives for eco-design. In response to this, there has been a new component to try to generate incentives for eco-design. With Eco-Modulation, bonuses and penalties are applied to producers depending on their packaging. Eco-Modulation exists in 25 EU member states and the UK has EPR programs for packaging waste. Recent legislation in U.S.—Colorado, California, Washington—have some parts of eco-modulation. Key components included product scope, objectives (recyclability, rate, problematic substances, sustainable content, increase the life span), technical criteria, fee structure, and fee magnitude.
While EPR typically focuses on improving recycling rates, the assumption is that we will also achieve environmental improvements. One concern is that we need to pay attention to something other than our traditional metrics—why are we doing this? Circularity is only an intermediate goal. We are also pursuing EPR because we want to help the climate. The material attributes of packaging is not a consistent guide to environmental preferability. There is some concern that we may not be getting environmental outcomes. Eco-Modulation can lead to perverse outcomes. Extended product lifespans may prolong use of less energy efficient appliances. Reliable packaging requires multiple cycles to outperform single-use alternatives. Policies need to take into account these complexities. Practical difficulties are: ineffective incentives from eco-modulation, data management, verifiability, traceability, and insulation of producers from eco-modulation through online sales. How will we know if eco-modulation works? EPR has a poor track record with limited data, methodological obstacles, and little history of policy evaluation after implementation. We need increasing connection to environmental outcomes – use LCA to inform policy design – innumerable statements of European Commission for the need for a lifecycle approach. Some (very limited) precedents include CONAI (Italy packaging PRO), WEEE forum (association of e-waste PROs), and the product environmental footprint (EU method for measuring environmental footprints). He expressed that there are many types of eco-modulation outcomes to monitor, including producers’ responses to rewards and change to products being put out on the market. We need to address evaluation challenges: more data collection, systematic collection of data from PROs, lifecycle assessments, and natural experiments. Liftset concluded with takeways to think about—restoring eco-design incentives likely to be more difficult than expected, will be difficult to assess success, change norms in policy discourse and analysis (data availability, verification), and transparency is critical. We need to view eco-modulation as an experimentation in product policy.
Updates on Existing EPR Laws
With Day 1 of the conference focusing on EPR, an early presentation focused on status updates of existing packaging EPR laws in four states, moderated by Resa Dimino, Managing Partner at Signalfire Group, and Ex Officio Board Member for NERC. Darla Arians, EPR Program Lead for the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, talked about their program, which included packaging materials (everything consumer facing) and paper products. Services provided included transportation, collection, and education. A private service provider, local government, and PRO will deliver services and receive reimbursement, contract with producer that will provide services. Producers have the option to opt out but will not receive reimbursements. If community does not opt in, the PRO steps in and is obligated to provide services. Producers fund collection and transfer, processing, education, infrastructure investments, expansion of recycling services, and composting facilities. Performance targets and goals are minimum collection rates, minimum post-consumer recycled content rates and minimum recycling rates with January 2030 and January 3035 targets to reach. The role of the CDPHE consists of member advisory boards and appoints PRO, 3rd party consultant for needs assessment, manage public input, design and develop plan, enforcement, annual logistics reports, and conducting consumer costs analysis. The advisory board is relied on for expertise and guidance. They also advise the PRO, provide input on development of plan proposal work on annual reports, and make recommendations.
Jessica Nadeau, Environmental Specialist at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, spoke next about their reimbursement mode, which allows for Maine to maintain pre-existing services, provides municipal level decision making, and waste/recycling contractor association. A stewardship organization performs administration. There are no statewide packaging requirements in this program. There is a median cost for managing a packaging material by type to determine producer fee per ton of packaging sold. Participating municipalities must collect and recycle materials that are readily recyclable. Investments are in infrastructure and education, and alternative collection program—producers can collect material by type. Material collected must be recycled or reused within three years. Packaging material exemptions are: if they are not received by consumer of the product, long term storage or protection of a durable product, beverage containers, architectural paint if recycling, high number of containers collected. Restaurants fit the definition of the consumers, while goods professionals install OUT (installers are not consumers), packaging materials sold in bulk are OUT, packaging material added for distribution directly to consumer. The program’s goals are to influence decision making with respect to product fees and investment (not a way to measure compliance). Other elements are processes and criteria is readily recyclable, (including defining packing materials) investment, and producer and municipality reporting requirements. Producer fees include administration fees, per ton packaging material type fees based on municipal costs, and incentive fees. Formal rulemaking will be happening in 2024 and the first producer payment in 2026. While there is no advisory council, there are reoccurring opportunities for public and stakeholder input annual investment and review, rulemaking.
Karen Kayfetz, Branch Chief, Product Stewardship Branch at CalRecycle, talked about the organization’s focus on reducing plastic pollution and increasing recycling. By 2032, the requirements in California are that all types of packing and singe-us plastic food ware 100% compostable or they are banned for use in the state. This includes single-use plastic packaging and service ware. Producers must be selling 25% less of plastic covered. 65% will need to be recycled or they are banned. Single use includes plastic, paper, and glass. Food service ware, plastic includes cutlery, plates, plastic coated paper products, butcher paper, etc. 25% source reduction goal for plastic covered materials, of the 25% at least 4% is required to be used for reuse and refill (out into communities). There will be a $5 billion plastic pollution mitigation fund, with 25% reduction by 2025 unique goals and expanded timeline for expanded polystyrene. Timeline is:
- 2025 – 25% EPS recycled
- 2027 – 10% less plastic
- 2028 – 20% plastic packaging and food ware recyclable
- 2030 – 40% plastic packaging and food ware recyclable
- 2032 – 100% plastic packaging and food ware recyclable
Responsible entities included CalRecycle (which oversees program, regulations, enforcement and audit producers, implements law, annual reports, statewide meets assessment, publishing based on waste characterization studies in the field publish recyclable or compostable list), PRO, and an Advisory Board (who identifies barriers and solutions for building circular economy and advises PRO on plan reviews draft needs assessment). PRO duties include the stewardship plan, enroll producers, increase recycling rates, mitigate trash pollution in disadvantaged communities, and pay all implementation costs. Eco-modulated producer fees may be based on pretense of hazardous or toxic materials. Credits may be based on post-consumer recycled content, source reduction, material standardization, transition to reuse and refill. CalRecycle has been holding workshops since January to inform the public and a new circular economy division launched; up next: draft regulation text public review.
Finally, Rachel Perlman, Consultant for RRS, spoke about what Oregon’s EPR materials include, such as packaging, foodservice ware, printing and writing paper. Exemptions include items in the Bottle Bill and pharmaceutical packaging. The current system is that municipalities franchise community recycling services—this will remain in place. The PRO will fund program enhancements estimated at 30% of recycling system cost (operational costs, education resources and campaigns, responsible and end market verification). In addition, costs for PCR will roll out cart requirements, DEC implementation and enforcement costs, system reporting and auditing requirements, waste prevention, and the MIRROR program. Oregon’s goal is to follow the schedule of 25% recycled by 2028, 50% in 2040, 70% in 2050. There is a commission to establish collection targets and standards by rule. Rules to be approved in November. DEQ responsible for rulemaking, studies and needs assessments, goal evaluation, facility oversight, implementation oversight and enforcement, and other program support in the future. A PRO will establish a schedule of membership fees to be paid by members of the organization that is sufficient to meet the financial obligation of the organization. Statute provides specific guidance with respect to base fee rates, unform membership fee, etc. There is an advisory council which reviews activities related to the statute, providing feedback, auditing, reporting, establishing statewide collection list, recommendations to DEQ and PRO on matters of public interest. Additional elements of the law include water prevention and reuse funding, establishment of responsible end market requirements, establishment of performance standards, understanding systematic equity study, undertaking study of marine debris and litter prevention, establishment of living wage, contamination reduction, etc.
Hard to Recycle Materials
After a break, which allowed attendees a chance to network with others and visit the exhibitors just outside the conference room, a topic about EPR for hard to recycle materials kicked off moderated by Ally Peck, Senior Manager, Environmental Issues and Sustainability, for the Consumer Technology Association. She introduced the presenters including Naomi Manahan, Senior Operations Program Manager at Reverse Logistics Group, Carin Stuart, Steward Relations Manager at Call2Recycle, and Josh Kelly, Solid Waste Program Manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
Naomi Manahan started the session by discussing Illinois and South Carolina’s Electronic Stewardship Legislation. First introducing her company Reverse Logistics Group as an EPR compliance and PRO service provider, she explained that they work with producers to make sure they are registered with the state and manage logistics. She pointed out that the Clearinghouse Model was implemented in Illinois and South Carolina. Involved are a government agency (organizes dates, collects, and interface with multiple entities), PRO A and PRO B (represent multiple producers, enter into agreements with assigned counties to provide requested services, select recyclers, participate in True Up process, arrange for collection, transportation and recycling), and Producer A, B, C, D, Recycler A, Recycler B are brought on by PROs who register with the agency and make sure they are compliant with applicable regulations, County A-F pay for some component of the collection, staff and labor of the sites they choose to operate, coordination beforehand and PRO pays for anything after drop off. The Illinois Law was signed in August 2017, and implemented in January 2019. It established a shared cost model for electronics recycling, minimum number of collection sites or events, convenience target prioritized over weight targets (no financial penalty for producers if weight target is not met, can carry over 20% deficit into programs two years later, can supplement wright target with private network), producers must pay for recycling and transportation of all eligible material collected at the program sites or events, and collection must occur year round. Financial responsibilities go to producers who cover transportation costs, cost to recycled material, and cost of packaging. The county handles labor and collection, staffing, packaging of materials, advertising, and are allowed to charge residents at drop-off. If counties opt out, it ends up in private sector to handle the waste. Lessons learned include that public education is critical for residents and county coordinators. It is very common that they don’t understand cost-share models, and this can result in opting out in the middle of the year because they don’t have the resources to pay on their end. Unintended consequences tend to get penalized, so they have learned to pack the truck. Some may opt out because they are happy with what they are doing, and charging at drop offs is not embraced by all counties.
Carin Stuart called out that Washington, DC had just launched an all battery recycling program—the first in the U.S. She said that Call2Recycle has 18,000 collection sites in U.S. and partner with multiple entities to collect, ship, sort, and process. They also perform audits to make sure partners are doing what is expected and put materials back into market. Minnesota and New York deal with all rechargeables, Vermont deals with lithium batteries, DC passed their first law in 2020 and California and Washington recently passed a law. Washington DC’s first all battery law covers all portable rechargeable batteries and all primary chemistries, and all portable batteries within devices. Key elements of the plan included collection rates, recycling efficiency rates (for processers), public awareness metrics, and convenience and accessibility (geographic spread, close to public transport, minimum of 70 public sites, and accommodations for people with limited or no English proficiency). Lessons learned were timing delays from pandemic affects, staffing changeover, loss of original intent with former legislators, and that regulations were published the same day as the plan was submitted. Resulted in 70 sites with a mix of public/private, inclusion of damaged and defective batteries two months before plan approval.
Finally, Josh Kelly, talked about Vermont’s Household Hazardous Waste EPR program and stressed that PFAS is one of the emerging toxics that policymakers are paying attention to. He pointed out that polystyrene is banned in the state and that there is a food waste packaging product ban. Disposal and and collection requirements are that eecycling must be collected everywhere trash is collected. There are six free recycling programs: 1) HHW, 2) Electronics, 3) Thermostats, 4) Paint, 5) Mercury/Bulbs (cannot be solid anymore in the state), and 6) Batteries. Can also include aerosols, auto products, paint thinners, etc. HHW EPR law covers products that are defined as HHW under VT HHW rules, such as gas cylinders. Exempts existing product stewardship, advanced consumer fee, and EPR programs (batteries, mercury lamps and thermostats, paint covered in EPR program, electronics covered in EPR program, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs). Costs have risen as much as 50% for collection events—$100 to $400 per carload. There was a shrinking pool of service providers, and municipalities faced tough decision of whether to charge people more to do the right thing resulting in dumping it in trash or work into the environment, which led to a discussion on could we make products more expensive? The law contains stop sale, and allows multi, non-profit stewardship organizations after the first collection plan, requires free statewide collection, allows only one collection plan that all stewardship organization must collaborate on, requires statewide convenience collection, requires public education and outreach, method of disposition following reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy, requires collection performance goal of 5%, and disposal ban.
Recycling Market Development
In the afternoon, the first session focused on exploring different approaches to increasing supply and demand of post-consumer recycled feedstock. Moderator Bradley Baker, Program Manager, Resource Management Program at the Maryland Department of the Environment introduced presenters Kate Walker, Executive Director for SUNY Center for Sustainable Materials Management , Sean Sylver, Recycling Planner at the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and Ross Bergman, Director of Recycled Material Standard at the GreenBlue Institute.
Kate Walker began by talking about partnership for zero waste projects in New York State. The Center for Sustainable Material Management (CSMM) and TRUE are piloting a public-private partnership for zero waste. CSMM was established in 2019 in New York State. Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) is a global leader and non-profit for green building (emphasizes closed loop and upstream recycling). She has been working with TRUE to lean on for technical assistance and collaborate with other partners in New York State and led the organization into adopting waste management. They are engaging the industry—creating opportunity to scale sustainability and review the NYS solid waste management plan. The project partners with those who want to meet zero waste goals with precertification (Goodwill and UBS Arena) and certification (Staach, Channel, ReDish). Minimum program requirements are 90% diversion from the landfill, WTE, and the environment. Below 10% contamination for all material streams, compliance, etc. Looking to targeting key sectors (healthcare furniture, textiles architecture), and expanding social impact. This include conducting a needs assessment (recycling – waste characterization, collection and transport infrastructure, operational needs market conditions and consumer education), potential end markets, and material flow map (understand where it takes place).
Sean Sylver, who talked about “Diverse Stakeholder Recycling Market: Development Workgroup for State Plan”, commented on getting as many perspectives as possible when putting together an action plan. With 6 million tons annually, Massachusetts’ Solid Waste Master Plan Goals are to have 30% reduction by 2030, 90% by 2050. Tools include waste bans on a range of recyclable materials, including new ones on mattresses and textiles, expanded organic ban, enforcement, grant and loan programs, business, and municipal assistance (Recycling Works, Recycle Smart MA. Work Groups MA), MASSDEP Solid Waste Advisory Committee, Market Development, Deconstruction, Source Reduction and Reuse RMD work groups 2022. Topics covered included business support and economic development, education outreach, networking, information sharing, and demand side strategies. Sylver said they learned there was plenty of interest from well over 100 participants, and resources are available. Education, outreach, networking, and information sharing touches every aspect of the plan. Try to build relationships and use resources that are already there, especially with limited funding. When you have a draft action plan, you want to keep it living, high-level. Boil it down to 3 areas: business support and economic development (strategies to expand recycling market infrastructure), demand side (strategies to build demand for recycled products), and R&D (strategies for products, equipment and technologies). There are opportunities for collaborative funding—how can we design for recyclability? Use the toolkit to approach it in a dedicated way over the next several years. The next steps are to publish the final plan, hiring, establishing connections and initializing short term action items.
Ross Bergman wrapped up the session by discussing “Attributes of Recycled Content Certificates for New Revenue Streams and More Resilient Markets”. He talked about what has happened in other sustainable solution scales and market demand, including material demand and chain of custody certification—forest products, agriculture, fair trade. A verified, networked supply chain are robust answers to provide a valuable commodity to increase the demand in recyclable material. How has renewable energy grown—it has environmental benefit, no emissions, gives renewable energy credits, RECs drive renewable investment. Recyclers are no different than renewable energy developers. They are responsible for emissions reduction, but they need a way to get value. This can be done through creating rec for recycling through certification. ARCs are driving recycling expansion. Through an ARC transaction, they are going to get certified ensuring that the sale of the commodity has environmental benefits, turn into a certificate for use when selling to end markets. When recycled material is certified, it can be cost competitive with virgin material and provides access to new markets; you can skip the supply chain and sell it right to the brand with the certificate and it’s tied to expansion and investment—activities that enable generation for recycling. Chain of custody + Tradeable ARC certificates = new markets investment. How to get involved – prep for audit and achieve certification, etc.
The final session of the first conference day covered media literacy with regards to recycling, discussions with industry stakeholders, and methods to increase transparency and accurate knowledge. Moderated by Shannon Crawford Gay, Director of Recycling & Environmental Policy at WM, the first presenter was Gretchen Carey, Sustainability Manager of New England Region at Republic Services, and President of MassRecycle. She said that misinformation comes frequently but a report by Greenpeace in 2022 spread recycling misinformation through other media outlets. This misinformation was devastating to those who work so hard. She wrote a rebuttal in order to get out real information to those who had been misinformed and it did get picked up by various outlets. However, rather than continuing to argue, they worked on the ‘show, don’t tell method’, which is inviting people in to see the operation and worked out well. She said we all want to protect our reputation. WM made a commitment to buy recycled plastics to back up claims there is a market for material, and invited MassDEP to tell people recycling was not a hoax, and that there is enforcement in MA. They invited sustainability professionals, and offered tours of MRF and recycling facility. This sold out immediately, since people really did want to see what is happening. Nearly one year later, they are still giving weekly tours. The people who come to visit are the best advocates and can tell others what it is really happening. Relationships with reporters need to be cultivated; read through their articles to see about their writing styles. They are here to be a resource. She wants them to have facts from people that work in the industry. Recognizing key information points that the public doesn’t know is critical. Coming up with sound bites that are usable is key if you are going to go up against the media. Embrace their emotion, listen to them, they will listen to you. Lean into what they already know to be true. Tell them things they don’t know that are interesting. Invite them to ask questions and have the answers for them.
Alex Husted, Co-Founder of Helpsy, spoke on textile recycling and what his company is doing. He pointed out that they are not immune to misinformation in the textile world, whether it is people with other agendas, brands, manufacturers, etc. It is a tough battle, and the best weapon has been inviting people in and having them at our facility to see what they do and why. It is important work because textiles are the fastest growing waste stream by far. The general public does not really know what goes on behind the scenes. He wants people to know what is really going on; that is how we get change to happen.
JoAnn Gemenden, Executive Director of New Jersey Clean Communities, wrapped up the last talk of the day with discussing a digital platform for increasing recycling rates. New Jersey was the first state to mandate curbside recycling. Other progressive legislation included single use plastic bags, no plastic straws (unless asked), paper bags, and a polystyrene foam food service containers ban in 2020. New Jersey Clean Communities was written into legislation and created for outreach and education. They began to use the digital tool, RecycleCoach, to address the statewide education initiative. While recycling was mandatory, recycling rules differ from county to county/town to town. They needed to have a way to get residents know what to do. RecycleCoach provides recycling information and education systems designed to encourage recycling reduce confusion, reeducation in enforcement visits, positive feedback from residents, customizable to provide specific rules. New Jersey was the first state to offer RecycleCoach technology free of charge in 2017. She pointed out that outreach is only as good as the number of users, so start with elected officials, invectives, promotions, PSAs, etc.
At the end of the first day, attendees had a chance to relax and chat with others, network with the exhibitors once again and enjoy some light appetizers and drinks. The Leadership Awards Ceremony honored those in the Northeast that are doing some really innovative things at their facilities and have built efficient programs as a model for others. The Outstanding Municipality went to Prince George’s County, which established a 250-acre organic compost facility, one of the largest facilities on the East Coast. In 2013, the County Council passed legislation mandating the piloting of food composting. In 2017, a pilot curbside food waste collection program was introduced. The Public-School Food Scrap Diversion Program, in parallel, covers 11 public schools and the William Schmidt Center. The County collects and transports the food waste to its organic facility for conversion into compost, which is later returned to the schools for use in gardening. The program has generated significant benefits to the County in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by diverting food waste from the County’s landfill, reducing transportation costs, and influencing parents to be food waste diversion advocates. The program puts emphasis on education as the key to sustain it and to ensure that the benefits redound to the local populace and the environment. The award was accepted by Jessica Moore, Recycling Section Manager.
The Outstanding Member was Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority (HRRA), a regional, governmental, waste management and recycling authority serving 14 municipalities in western Connecticut and a population of over 266,000people. HRRA municipalities include: Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, Roxbury, Sherman, Weston, and Wilton. The goal of the project is to create a self-sustaining closed loop composting system for transforming residential food waste into an end-product for community and agricultural use. This innovative project demonstrates that municipalities can manage food waste locally, reduce the carbon footprint of offsite disposal and contribute to the waste diversion goals of the state. This project uses an “Aerated Static Pile (ASP) Composting” process. This project increases access to compost for residents, community garden groups, and local farmers for use as an alternative to synthetic fertilizers. It also provides the municipality with readily available compost for storm water management and erosion control. The award was accepted by Executive Director Jen Heaton-Jones.
And the Outstanding Organization award was given to the Inner City Green Team (ICGT), a nonprofit environmental organization focused on poverty alleviation and community development. Their mission is to protect the environment and help transform the lives of residents living in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments through recycling outreach/education, job training, and paid work that can lead to a lifetime of employment and civic engagement. To achieve this end, they are working to create an effective, sustainable, and replicable recycling infrastructure at NYCHA with job creation and community revitalization at its core. The award was accepted by Bridgette Charlton-Vicenty, Founder of the organization.
The second day of the conference opened with welcome remarks by Megan Pryor, Environmental Specialist at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Vice President of NERC. Jumping right into the focus of the day, the first topic was on “Scaling New Recycling & Composting Programs in Environmental Justice Communities.” Moderator Elena Bertocci, Environmental Specialist III at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection introduced the presenters, and Chris Gaynor, Climate Justice Specialist at the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, was first to talk about the subject. He started off by defining environmental justice and how to understand environmental justice communities and what new recycling programs keep in mind. What is the state of RI doing? What are others doing? What was the need? He spoke of several examples, include 11th Hour Racing, and Litterless – Zero Waste Grocery Guide: Rhode Island. He emphasized to look at the role of stakeholders. Every community will face different equity changes, schools are not supported with the technical assistance, climate change and policies are going through change. Seek collaboration with every interaction. How are you using your own resources and platform within your own organization and being a good neighbor to the communities?
Amelia Rose, Executive Director of Groundwork Rhode Island, spoke next about siting small scale composting operations in urban neighborhoods. She gave an intro to the organization and its core programs. Groundwork Rhode Island took over Harvest Cycle in 2018, who was picking up food scraps on bicycle and they wanted to go to a non-profit to continue. Once Groundwork Rhode Island took over, they went from 231 to over 500 subscribers (38,000 pounds to 200,000 pounds (projected)) and 11 drop off sites. The Ring Street Community Garden Site has gone through many iterations; some of the challenges were rats during COVID and neighbor complaints. They overcame some of the challenges by developing new bin designs, responding quickly to neighbors, partnering to aggregate and move excess scraps offsite when we went over capacity, and improving overall aesthetics and organization of the site. And they have had no complaints since 2020. They are now ensuring a well-managed site with frequent manual turning of the compost by staff and volunteers (two to three times per week), and manage 11 well-built food scrap collection sites. At the West End Compost Hub, they turned illegal dumping grounds (designated brownfield site) into evacuation. The first step in remediation, was to prepare for development in 2023. So, they put in a bid to build a new facility—the plan includes a hub for community resources and education, and the final site plan has successfully passed a zoning review by the city of Providence (ready for construction). It is projected to process 182 tons per year of food scraps—almost double to what is collected now. Community engagement goals are to implement education and engagement programs for the hub, strengthen community partnerships, host a wide range of visitors to learn about composting, urban agriculture, brownfields remediation, etc. Community engagement methods include signage, flyers, letters, meeting with food trucks, and outreach at farmers’ markets. People have been very supportive and excited about the new facility. What’s next: construction contractor, construction/installation in Spring 2024, will continue to add subscribers, adding new drop off sites, continuing to build relationships with sources of feedstocks, continue to communicate with local residents.
Navigating Policies and Messaging
The final session of the conference focused on navigating policies, programs, and messaging for organics diversion with Chaz Miller, Ex Officio Board Member for NERC as the moderator. The first presenter, Heather Billings, Green Business Specialist, for the Center for EcoTechnology talked about assessing food waste policies. She introduced the Center for EcoTechnology, which focuses on NRDC policy. They provide education and technical assistance with policy, enforcement, and infrastructure, and work with site evaluations, recommendations, implementation, education, content development, and capacity building. They have developed a tool that estimates food waste generation, which is helpful if you are subject to a ban or a law—you can have a true idea of what you are generating for food waste. There is also a link to REFED policy finder that lists each state’s policy. The guide helps to understand existing policies, identify gaps in policy development, and learn from strategies in other communities. Organics Disposal Bans and Recycling Laws have laid the groundwork to increase diversion through policy levels, and many states have taken a phased approach leading up to the implementation of a policy; three of 12 locales have inventoried a ban or recycling law. Policy categories include tax incentives, plans targeting solid waste, climate action goals, grants and incentive programs, food safety policies, organics processing, etc.
Next, Michael Orr, Recycling Director for the City of Cambridge Department of Public Works talked about their organics program and its growth. Cambridge is home to 118,000 residents and 51,000 households. Most households are in buildings with 10 units or more. It is also home to MIT, Harvard, and large businesses. It has a very environmentally progressive plan with 50% waste reduction by 2030 (using 2008 as a baseline). He pointed out that the city has a strong foundation of food waste collection—in the 1950s and 1960s, wagons would collect it and take it to pig farmers. In 2008, drop off organics started, school organics collection in 2009 and curbide organics 2014. In 2018, the program went citywide with curbside organics. In 2019, it expanded to buildings with 13+ units. Orr said they marketed the programs at bike share stations, at Harvard Square, on trucks, at bus stations, and transportation hubs. The message was to reduce trash up to 40%. Unfortunately, in 2020-2021 the program was suspended due to COVID, but they still encouraged people to use the green bin carts for rodent control. In May 2021, the program resumed and in 2022 they launched standard trash carts. Orr pointed out that they wanted to make sure every green cart has a lock on it. They conducted a 2022 Curbside Trash Audit and found 45% of trash bins have holes in them from rodents since food waste in trash is the primary food source for rats. In summer 2022, the city replaced all personal trash barrels with city standard carts. Some of the challenges were high turnover, language barrier, and dealing with large residential buildings (absentee property managers, dispersion of responsibility).
The final speaker on the subject was Shannon McDonald, Natural Resource Planner for the Maryland Department of the Environment, discussing how to creating sustainable and equitable programs. She started with a timeline of Maryland’s organics laws, which began in 1992 with yard waste to 2017 with HB17 organics materials diversion & infrastructure study (outlining requirements and expectations); April 2022 SBO0124 introduced to have public schools composting school waste (did not pass); September 2022 issues permitting guidance, December 2022 COMAR .24.04.13 – Food residual diversion and reporting; April 2023 HR586 – law approved state procurement for compost, mulch, soil amendments and aggregataes; September 2023 – MDE food donation guide, reissued toolkit for MD schools waste audit; October 2023 SWIFR grant approved – state, city of Baltimore. There are three regulatory agencies – MDE (energy), MDA (agriculture), DGS (general services) that deal with legislation centering on organics, including animal feed donation and commercial, exempt from permit with restriction, EJ accountability, food donation protection, MD code for donated food, food donation for qualifying farms, and the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan law. What’s next is Accessible and Equitable Future – Placement (capacity, market, zoning), Education (sustainability, alterative opportunities, continuing education), certification (continuing education), cost sharing programs, equipment sharing programs, certified materials, and community inclusion. Future opportunities are stakeholder engagement, legislatively mandated commissions, business development support, local government collaboration, and community outreach. She emphasized that it all comes back to what can propel us into the future.
An Open Collaboration
The NERC Fall Conference ended with ended with a forum where people could discuss ideas, address any questions, and had the opportunity to give insight on the topics that were talked about during the event. Moderated by Josh Kelly, people also gave feedback on the needs or topics that attendees wanted to see in the future. Some of the topics that people mentioned were fire safety and fire insurance, model battery EPR bill (getting involved), a focus on changing term from ‘food waste’ to ‘wasted food’ (Maryland is working on this). There was also an interest in seeing seminars that give best practices from communities and incorporate them into the workforce. There is a juxtaposition of enforcement vs. engagement and outreach. We need to promote more of what others are doing, what kind of regulation and how it could be set up. Need to work with each other. Help the states to set up programs that work with all the citizens. Also expressed interest in keeping a short part of conferences to hear about new technologies. Would like to see tours added to some of these conferences. Learn more about more about regulations from policy councils, donation laws, food laws, pilot projects, more from those who are providing “boots on the ground”—more practical application and why. Would like to have public health and nutrition people attend and talk about how to build those relationships in your town as we look at reuse. Create a reuse network where all the players are brought in, including economic developers/planners because oftentimes businesses will say there is no incentives. We need to make it more economically viable in the regions and help them to understand different industry sectors. More on language barrier communication. Opportunities to co-locate with similar conference. Bring brands, manufacturers, producers to conference within the region. Experience of the younger workforce, listening and making sure we are providing an exclusive space for people and using the right terminology that does not have a negative connotation, as well as recruiting young professionals to this field.
Once again, NERC put on an outstanding conference and we look forward to the next one in Spring 2024!