A publication of Work On Waste USA, Inc., 82 Judson, Canton, NY 13617 315-379-9200 December 19, 1991

Waste Not, Want Not.

Priorities for food-waste recovery R

Before we offer some excerpts from the report listed below, we believe it is important for groups to prioritize food-waste recovery. We have not seen any reports prioritizing the recovery of food wastes. As incinerator opponents have been the catalysts for recycling and resource priorities, the logical extension will lead to advocating the wisest recovery of food waste. Simply stated, the highest priority is sharing good food with hungry people. The following priorities combine wise social and resource strategies. We truly believe in the adage waste not, want not, and therefore advocate that the following priorities, in terms of a community’s effort, time and money, are fully considered in “waste” management plans.

1. Good food to hungry people. Several cities have begun operations, some called “City Harvest”, where volunteers collect excess food prepared at restaurants and institutions and deliver this food to soup kitchens, etc. Whether one’s community is large or small, good food to hungry people is ethically the first priority.

2. Edible food to animals. More effort needs to be concentrated on edible food being fed to animals in preference to composting. There are stringent regulations regarding feeding food wastes to animals (pigs,etc.), but none of these regulations are as daunting as the imperative for responsible stewardship of our resources. We urge agricultural communities, especially, to bring back the sensible, beneficial and rewarding scenario of feeding food scraps to animals.

3. Food wastes to backyard or community composting projects. Decentralized composting projects should have a higher priority over a centralized composting project. The householder will be able to insure a high quality compost for their gardening and landscaping needs. It provides an invaluable appreciation of the ecological cycle to children and parents alike. And lastly, it will reduce a community’s collection, transportation and processing costs.

4. Source-separated food wastes to centralized composting projects. Curb-side collection that introduces a separate collection pail for food and yard wastes is the only way we can insure that the quality of the compost is not contaminated by inorganics and the only way we can insure a high- grade, quality product, that can be used on agricultural land. This compost will also lend itself invaluable for other high-quality gardening/landscape use.

5. Dirty composting, or mixed waste composting. This will render a contaminated material for very limited, if any, use. It should be considered only as a way of stabilizing the contaminated organics prior to being landfilled. Such an approach minimizes methane and leachate production and achieves considerable volume reduction. In other words, it is a way of controlling what goes into landfills - a better approach than trying to control what comes out. Any effort that goes into mixed waste composting should have the goal of improving the landfill and not producing a product for sale. It is important to recognize that the contaminated compost material produced is of a quality that most people would never want to use on their “own” property, let alone in their community, where the land where this material is put may someday be the homesite of our grandchildren.

“Garbage In/Garbage Out?”
A hard look at mixed municipal solid waste composting.
By Stephen A. Hammer for the
New York Environmental Institute, 353 Hamilton Street, Albany, NY 12210. Tel: 518-462-5526
Report available: $20 for non-profits and $50 for individuals and businesses.
This report was commissioned in response to NY State’s embrace of mixed municipal waste composting. According to Lee Wasserman, executive director of the NY Environmental Institute, the report “concludes that the current lurch toward MSW composting is a mistake which communities will soon regret. Just as early converts to incinerators learned that the plants often did not work, presented unnecessary health risks, were prohibitively expensive and did not provide an environmentally sound solution to solid waste management, so too with MSW compost facilities.” This report is timely and overviews definitions of compost quality, cost comparisons of mixed MSW composting vs. the composting of source-separated food and yard waste (known as green waste), marketing, environmental compatibility, i.e.; achieving recycling’s primary goal of reducing the use of virgin materials. “Composting of paper may produce a useable end-product, but it does not reduce the number of trees cut down. Mixed waste composting lulls municipalities into forgetting about the need for additional paper recycling efforts because it relieves disposal pressures for a sizable portion (40%) of the waste stream.” The bottom line in factors affecting compost quality “is that even with the utilization of sophisticated pre-processing equipment, what you let into the facility largely determines the quality of what you get out...quality generally refers to three factors: the nutritive value of the compost to the soil, and plants grown in that soil; the level of contamination by inert substances such as plastic and glass; and the safety problems rising from heavy metal contamination...Although all of these quality measures are important considerations, the public health issue raised by heavy metals contamination is the quality measure most often debated....” As can be seen in the chart below, Europeans are effecting much stricter standards. This should be noted carefully, because Europe has the most experience with mixed municipal waste composting. What they have learned is that there are no markets for contaminated compost. They are now turning to composting source-separated green waste -- food, yard and wood wastes. A question that will soon arise, and needs an answer is: if green waste composting yields higher than background levels of heavy metals naturally occurring in soils, where are the metals coming from?

Comparison of Heavy Metals Standards.

Refers to content of end-product compost, concentrations in parts per million dry weight./

* These soil background levels were not included in this report. Waste Not received them from Marco Kaltofen, director of the Citizens’ Environmental Laboratory, run by the National Toxics Campaign. The naturally occurring background levels of metals found in a range of U.S. soils, listed in this chart, specifically exclude known contaminated soils. The Citizens’ Environmental Laboratory provides groups and individuals with a reliable and inexpensive testing service for soil, ash, water, and other media. Citizens’ Environmental Lab., 1168 Commonwealth Ave, Boston, MA 02134. Tel: 617-232-3945.

** New York State’s Class 1 MSW compost can be distributed for use by the public, used on food chain crops and other agricultural and horticultural uses, but must not be used on crops grown for direct human consumption.

*** New York State’s Class 2 MSW compost must meet the same particle size and heavy metals standards as compost derived from sewage sludge. Class 2 compost is restricted to use on non-food chain crops and other purposes.

**** The most recent iteration of the sludge standards are the newly proposed no observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) standards developed by a consortium of government and university researchers.


“Mixed Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): garbage generated by households and commercial businesses which is collected in a commingled fashion. Example of mixed MSW: grass clippings, plastic wrap, old sneakers, food waste, disposable diapers, styrofoam packaging material, batteries, etc.”

“Green Waste: organic material such as food, yard and wood waste which is collected separately from the rest of the garbage.”

“Compost: the end-product of a controlled process involving the biological decomposition of organic materials.”

“Co-compost: compost derived from a mixture of organic materials and sewer sludge or septage.”

“Green compost: the end-product of a controlled process involving the biological decomposition of organic materials derived from a source-separated (or non-commingled) stream of solid waste.”

WASTE NOT # 178 A publication of Work on Waste USA, published 48 times a year. Annual rates are: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Students & Seniors $35; Individual $40; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson Street, Canton, NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448.