Food waste and yard waste may not be the first topics in many conversations about sustainability, but organics recycling is one of the most promising and environmentally beneficial opportunities for the waste sector. Still, there is much work to complete before the sector meets its potential to offer both environmental and economic sustainability, and the technology and infrastructure needed to convert organic waste into valuable products are evolving.
Two compelling trends make this a promising period for the recycling of organic material. The economics of “waste” are changing as waste service companies reconsider the value contained in waste materials and work to capture value from the organics they manage. At the same time, residential, commercial and municipal customers are demanding more organics recycling services to meet their own sustainability goals.
Supply and demand incentives are aligning to increase the amount of organics processed, and by most measures the market is ripe for growth. North America generates more than 80 million tons of organic waste each year, which includes food waste, yard waste, and clean wood from forestry projects and the construction and demolition sector. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about two-thirds of the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream consists of organic waste. While approximately 65 percent of yard waste is diverted for recycling, only around 2.5 percent of food waste is currently being recycled. There is clearly abundant room for expansion, provided the sector can navigate the technological, regulatory, logistical and economic challenges associated with recycling food, yard and other types of green waste.