Understanding Organics Reduction and Environmental Justice Trends
Major changes are coming to the solid waste industry in the United States
Landfills and solid waste facilities are gearing up for aggressive policy and legislation updates within the next five to ten years. Policy changes from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are the main driver although the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the EPA’s ability to enact greenhouse gas reduction regulations for coal power plants could moderate the expectations for the magnitude and timeline of similar efforts in the waste industry. Climate change and environmental justice remain two of the main pressures that are increasingly applied by state agencies and local communities, in addition to the federal government.
So, what will these new potential regulations mean for the communities in which we live, work, and play? First, it’s important to understand what landfill factors contribute to climate change and what exactly environmental justice is. LaBella’s Director of Waste and Recycling, Jenny Johnson, and Environmental Analyst, Emma Hinkle break down what’s to come.
Mitigating Climate Change
Methane is a greenhouse gas, a family of significant contributors to climate change. Municipal solid waste landfills are the third largest source of methane emissions, following the oil and gas industry and agricultural land use (digestive systems of cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats). It is expected that the EPA will be issuing methane rules for landfills that will prioritize detecting leaks from active landfill gas collection and control systems and repairing them quickly. There are new techniques and technologies such as stationary sensors and drones that help to detect gas leaks from active landfill gas collection and control system components by measuring real-time methane emissions.
While implementing legislation and rules surrounding methane gas will help in controlling the methane emissions from waste already in the landfills, we anticipate that mandates on greenhouse gas reductions will result in bans on organic waste disposal at landfills. Local governments will lean heavily on the public to prevent organic waste from going into landfills, focusing on household composting or citywide composting, or anaerobic digestion. For this diversion of organic waste to be successful, large infrastructure updates and public education are needed.
As an example, New York State’s Food Waste Law, which requires large food scrap generators (with exceptions) to donate edible food and recycle all remaining food scraps if within 25 miles of a processing facility, is a first look at organics reduction legislation.
Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This means that everyone will be provided the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, in addition to equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
In May 2021, the New York Senate passed a law to improve environmental justice in low-income and disadvantaged communities. This law directly supports the State’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.
Enforcement of environmental justice is important, but it is negligent to ignore the challenges this will impose. For example, it will make siting and permitting a new landfill more difficult and may require expansions of existing landfills to incorporate special conditions into the facility permit. That said, the overall benefits that environmental justice programs and legislation have on communities is undeniable, but it’s best to expect that they will ultimately add higher costs and longer timeframes for future landfill expansion projects.
At LaBella, our understanding and approach to these changes is quadrilateral, using our Waste and Recycling team to navigate the challenges associated with landfill gas leak detection, monitoring, mitigation, and solid waste facility permitting. Our Environmental Permitting and Compliance teams will assist with permitting efforts, and our Wastewater team will design anaerobic digesters. Finally, our Climate Resilience team will help develop and implement organics reduction programs for municipalities or private businesses.
Since 1998, Jenny has provided solid waste consulting services to facilities in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, New York, and Maryland. She provides technical oversight to solid waste projects, is responsible for client and regulator relations, and has developed project management tools used by staff to ensure regulatory deadlines are met. Jenny supports LaBella’s technical staff and programs with training, technical standards, standard operating guidelines, quality control, and health and safety policies. Her experience includes landfill permitting and compliance, negotiations with regulators, groundwater remediation, odor management, landfill gas collection and control systems, and stormwater management. Additionally, Jenny has served on several Regulatory Advisory Panels for amendments to Solid Waste Management Regulations and Stormwater Regulations and has testified at the General Assembly on legislative bills concerning solid waste.
Emma is an Environmental Analyst responsible for managing and designing renewable energy and climate resiliency projects. She has two years of experience in the civil land development and geotechnical engineering sector conducting geotechnical field and lab work as well as designing stormwater and erosion and sedimentation controls.