Rhode Island Needs Statewide Food-Waste Support System to Grow Composting

By FRANCIS L. JACQUES

Opportunity is knocking to promote a Rhode Island industry for social good. It’s time for our state to encourage composting as a for-profit business that protects our soil’s health, defends our waters, and improves our environment.

In the state’s Refuse Disposal Food-Waste Regulation Section 23-18.9-17, it obligates food waste to be composted instead of being sent to the Central Landfill in Johnston. This mandate encourages a situation that exposes our residents to a potentially serious public-health issue and jeopardizes the health of the soil growing our fruits and vegetables.

Unregulated collections of food waste can cause terrible odors that attract unwanted organisms and creatures to local surroundings. Unregulated composting facilities can produce a toxic leachate of nitrates and phosphates that contributes to the growth of water-polluting toxic algae.

To comply with this ban and prevent the evolution of health and environmental problems, it necessitates the formation of a Statewide food-waste support system. However, this support system can only be realized by updating the current Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) regulations for composting operations. Without change, environmental problems are inevitable.

Our state’s environmental leadership must understand that composting food waste is a progression of multiphase events in nature’s decomposition process. It is a much more difficult process than the normal composting of yard waste. A properly regulated statewide food-waste support system requires specifically designed collection containers, specialized container trucks, and engineered designs for compost facilities.

A true composting process requires following a formula with exacting procedures monitored continually by a certified compost manager. The decomposition process must be guided by the results of a full spectrum of constant testing to promote organic life, prevent odors, and infestations, all the while controlling water-polluting leachate. The regulation must include a minimum threshold for nutrient density and a census of the waste-digesting organisms being incubated. For the health and safety of our residents and the soil’s health, the finished compost must adhere to quality standards that are sustainable and documentable.

To make matters worse, the state’s current composting regulations stifle the financial incentives for the growth of an industry that is rapidly becoming important to both human and environmental health. Composting is nature’s way to sequester carbon and methane. Yet, the absence of industry standards prevents composters from pursuing the financial incentives offered for sequestering carbon through the sale of carbon-tax credits.

The absence of a regulated statewide food-waste support system is hampering the growth of an industry for social good. The time has come for Rhode Island to support DEM and the compost industry to promote this profitable and sustainable waste system so important to our health and our environment.

Longtime Rhode Island resident Francis L. Jacques is the co-founder of the North Smithfield-based Center For Sustainable Organic Agriculture.