Sustainability Assessment of Food Waste Management Options

photo of food waste

Project Brief

The Challenge

Communities throughout the United States are shifting from the paradigm of waste disposal to viewing “waste” as a resource. Since 2014, Massachusetts has banned the disposal of organic materials from large commercial and industrial waste generators in a landfill or incinerator. In the wake of this ban, several industries began vying for the opportunity to utilize abundant organic waste streams. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency turned to ERG’s life cycle assessment specialists to determine the environmental and cost implications of food waste recovery options such as composting and co-digestion at a wastewater treatment facility as compared to legacy management via landfill or waste-to-energy incineration.

ERG's Solution

ERG carried out a case study of co-digestion upgrades at a wastewater facility in Massachusetts, engaging engineers and staff to gather data. At full capacity, this upgraded facility would be able to handle 40 percent of the food waste available in the Boston region. ERG calculated the net life cycle environmental and cost impacts from the upgrades to the facility. ERG customized regional scenarios in the Municipal Solid Waste Decision Support Tool for determining avoided waste management impacts of legacy landfilling and waste-to-energy incineration. ERG also assessed alternative food waste recovery options and developed composting results through an extensive literature review and a survey of local facilities. ERG produced a publicly available report and co-authored manuscripts describing the project outcomes. Massachusetts can use this study’s results to make informed environmental and cost decisions about management methods for diverted food waste. Other communities can also use the results for guidance as they transition from waste disposal to waste as a resource.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency