While the pursuit of clean energy initiatives remains key to combating climate change, it is equally crucial to focus on organic waste management as a linchpin in the quest for environmental sustainability.
By Andrew Cassilly

The U.S. is at a critical juncture in the battle against climate change, facing the pressing need to advance clean energy initiatives while concurrently establishing effective strategies for managing organic waste. Despite significant investments into the clean energy transition by Congress over the past year, progress continues to be hampered by persistent, oftentimes legislative, hurdles. The burgeoning interest from the private sector in clean energy projects is undeniable, but the approval processes for those projects pose significant obstacles that, if unaddressed, threaten to impede the nation’s aspirations for a sustainable energy economy. As the climate crisis looms large, expediting the approval and review of permits for these projects is imperative for effectively mitigating the impacts of climate change. The bureaucratic red tape ensnaring these projects is impeding progress on a national scale.

The Inflation Reduction Act allocated a hefty $386 billion toward clean energy and climate objectives—the largest in U.S. history—signifying Federal commitment; however, a chasm remains between those intentions and on-the-ground implementation of emerging technologies to advance the green energy transition. Navigating through the bureaucratic maze of approval processes can stall projects and impede the widespread proliferation of clean energy initiatives across the nation. A comprehensive reassessment of existing regulatory frameworks should strike a balance between environmental preservation and legislative expediency. These proactive measures can pave the way toward a cleaner, more resilient energy future.

Organics Recycling
Within the broader context of environmental sustainability, the management of organic waste is a crucial yet oft-overlooked tool for building a green energy future while curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Organic waste in landfills accounts for a significant portion of U.S. methane emissions and global greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the gravity of this impact, and charting a legislative path toward significantly expanding organics recycling is key to the long-term success of the fight against climate change. Apart from mitigating the adverse impacts of organic waste in landfills, organic waste recycling presents an opportunity to harness valuable raw materials for generating clean, renewable energy through processes like anaerobic digestion (AD).

Circular organics recycling plays a pivotal role in reducing companies’ environmental footprint by diverting organic waste from landfills and transforming it into valuable resources. The ineffective disposal of excess organics bears a significant environmental toll. Often consigned to incinerators, these materials are combusted, emitting environmental pollutants, or relegated to landfills where they decompose, releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Legislative Framework
A comprehensive legislative framework incentivizes sustainable waste management practices and addresses the environmental repercussions of unrecycled organic waste. Such a framework should delineate clear guidelines for waste reduction, organics recycling through methods like anaerobic digestion and composting. While several jurisdictions across the U.S. have taken strides in this direction at the state and municipal levels, a cohesive national approach remains paramount. By aligning efforts at all governmental levels, from federal to county, we can effectively incentivize businesses and individuals to adopt organic diversion practices, thereby fostering industry growth while mitigating environmental harm.

A number of state and local jurisdictions across the U.S. have implemented organics recycling policies, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont. Maryland is notable for its successful development and implementation of policies to ensure the redirection of food waste. The state has enacted six separate laws since 2017 to mitigate methane emissions and facilitate the generation of renewable energy through organics recycling.

In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly enacted House Bill 264/Senate Bill 483, titled Solid Waste Management – Organics Recycling and Waste Diversion – Food Residuals. This legislation mandates that entities that generate food waste and residuals must separate them from other solid waste and ensure that the waste does not end up being disposed of in a landfill. The Maryland law aims to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, enhance food accessibility for individuals at reduced or no cost, and enrich Maryland’s soils. On January 1, 2024, Maryland upped the ante on organics recycling requirements. Following that date, the provision of the Food Residual Diversion law and regulation applies to entities producing food residuals of one ton or greater per week, down from the previous threshold of two tons per week.

Charting a Path
While the pursuit of clean energy initiatives remains key to combating climate change, it is equally crucial to focus on organic waste management as a linchpin in the quest for environmental sustainability. By charting a legislative path toward organic diversion, we not only mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but also foster a circular economy that minimizes environmental harm while nurturing industry growth. In embracing organic diversion practices, we lay the groundwork for a cleaner, more resilient future. | WA

Andrew Cassilly is VP of Government Affairs for Bioenergy Devco. He can be reached through LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-cassilly-49a164a0.