Organics recycling aligns with the vision of sustainable materials management used in many states’ solid waste policy and local municipal solid waste plans, or more commonly known as materials management plans.
Materials management plans often use the three principles of sustainability – economic vitality, ecological integrity and improved quality of life – to guide solid waste management decision-making. Preference is often to first avoid waste generation, then to utilize generated waste for beneficial purposes, and finally, to properly dispose of what remains. This preference is also demonstrated through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s food recovery hierarchy, now replaced by the Wasted Food Scale. Generally identified as yard clippings, untreated wood waste, pre and post-consumer food scraps, and non-recyclable paper – according to the U.S. EPA, organics represent generally greater than 50% of the national MSW steam by weight. Opportunities for waste prevention, diversion of edible food to people and animals, and transforming organics into new products such as compost, fertilizers and biofuels that hold benefit for key industries will continue to be overlooked if policy, practice, and market dynamics prefer disposal to diversion and recovery as they do now.
Funds for sustainable resource management solutions must compete for resources that communities need for a variety of other important public services. Local decision-makers need to make the necessary investment in time and resources to foster transformation of community waste into community resources. Establishing integrated solid waste management policy, including landfill bans, is a start, but to fully realize the value of its organic resources, local governments must apply policies and financial resources to elicit desired outcomes. Creating and following materials management plans allows local governments to carry out their vision over the long-term, with updates as needed along the way, to realize their goals and economic, environmental and community benefits.