Part 1: Supporting Counties, Municipalities & Businesses
Last week, Bioenergy Devco hosted experts and peers in organics management and the circular economy from jurisdictions across the country to discuss Maryland’s new organics waste diversion law, best practices for implementing organics diversion programs at the local level, and considerations for supporting local businesses with compliance.
Our panelists included:
Dr. Charles C. Glass, Executive Director, Maryland Environmental Service
Bridget Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Recycling and Sustainability, New York City Department of Sanitation
Tim Broderick, Senior Sustainability Strategist, Boulder County Office of Sustainability, Climate Action, and Resilience
Eliza Johnston, Director of Public Policy, ICF
In this first of three blog posts covering the discussion, we share comments from the panelists about their work across the country, and here in Maryland, to support local municipalities and their businesses through the implementation and execution of organics diversion programs. You can watch the full event here.
Everyone should have the goal of keeping food waste out of landfills and incinerators. MES is prepared to support counties with questions like ‘how do we get through source separation?’ ‘How do we bifurcate our waste streams so that we can easily separate and manage organics?’ We’re here to help with source separation. We’re here to help with the haulers that are already under contract. We’re here to help train the trainer on source separation. We already remove food waste from BWI Airport and transport it to a Prince George’s County organics facility, and we’re here to accelerate this. We all want to work on these problems, get feedstock to Bioenergy Devco and any other facilities that are developing around the state. MES is here to help all of the counties and municipalities and the state as we get through this waste diversion law and we make sure that we keep organics out of our landfills and incinerators.
We’re working to reduce costs and bring organics recycling closer to our communities. And we’re doing that in a number of ways in terms of programmatic implementation. We have a business outreach program, Partners for a Clean Environment, which does great work in terms of communicating and understanding how to implement organics diversion within businesses. We also have a program called Restore Colorado . . . that includes an incredible restaurant tour of “zero foodprint” restaurants . . . We’re also connecting with our restaurateurs, who are in some ways creating some of the negative impacts through their supply chains and trying to correct that.
New York City passed a commercial organic law for our businesses – for large generator businesses – and it’s been a requirement since 2016 for the largest food generating businesses. And we’ve expanded that to smaller groups in 2018 and then again in 2020. This is a law that does have enforcement capabilities, although we do focus on education, outreach and training, and equipping businesses first and foremost while we do have enforcement as an option. [A lot of our work is helping with] source separation of food waste. We do training, we provide signage and we go and do site visits and actually listen to the businesses to figure out what are the challenges that they’re having so we can evolve our education to meet the on-the-ground realities.
[In response to the question: How do we involve business in this process? How do we help businesses or municipalities that are reluctant – that are concerned about their margins? How have you been able to work with businesses? And what are some of the concerns?]
To be frank, [starting an organics diversion program] can be [challenging]. So we’ve got to be frank about that with businesses and say – there’s a mandate, so let’s meet in our new reality. Let’s meet on planet earth and say we are facing a climate crisis. We have a policy direction that is requiring this to happen. And it’s possible and we’re going to work together to do it. I think part of it also is just living in the reality of the businesses that you’re working with.
There are businesses that are leaders in this regard, and I’m sure this is the case in Maryland. Leverage those businesses that are very proud of what they’re already doing with their peer networks as informal consultants. People love to brag. Businesses love to brag. And to the extent that you’re not creating a competitive situation where they’re revealing competitive secrets, this is one of those cases where you can help businesses motivate other businesses. I think this is a critical piece.
We support businesses with education, with training, and capacity building, with resources and incentives. We have a green business certification program that we’re developing to help businesses coalesce around capacity-building, training, and incentives. We want businesses to succeed while doing the right thing. So that is the attitude that we’ve taken.
In large part because of our Zero Waste Ordinance that came out of the city of Boulder, we have a green business certification program, Partners for a Clean Environment. They are the boots on the ground day-to-day. Really, relationship building is probably number one, because we’re layering it with all of these other sustainability programs. It’s not just zero waste that these green business folks are going out and engaging around. They are creating trusted relationships with our businesses. Organics diversion laws have been in existence for over ten years at this point and it’s been incredible to see how we can continue to sort of lean into it as we roll out all of these different layers to tackle climate action and create just a more sustainable future as a whole.
On the implementation side of commercial, that’s really been our main program. We pair it with incentivization of the pieces that they need. We understand via surveys what the barriers are for these businesses to implement the collection and storage of these materials. And then we come in and say, ‘OK, we’re going provide you with free signage, and with free bins. We’re going to help you out over the course of this first year if you need scales to weigh because you’re interested in your diversion rate.’
We really try to help them get up and off the ground and then run with it from there. On the residential side, you know, we have a very robust engagement within our school system program. We have an incredible nonprofit out here called Eco Cycle, and they really lead a lot of our residential work via printed guides and social media and every sort of thing you could think of for marketing and how to source materials. The Boulder Valley School District [has something] called the Green Schools Program. Built into their curriculum is learning how to source materials and the importance of doing so – how does it connect to regenerative agriculture?
We have other programs that exist, like our Sustainable Food and AG fund, where we support regenerative agriculture programs across the county. We’ve almost been able to put $1,000,000 into the soil and through that, we’ve been able to build relationships with many of our farmers, small scale to large scale, and really be able to try and start a community to understand what material works best for them.