Local Facility to Start Turning Food Waste into Fuel

The state’s commercial food waste disposal ban kicked in this week and by year’s end the Charlestown Maritime Center will begin producing fuel from compost for the Massachusetts Water Resources Agency’s (MWRA) wastewater treatment plant at Deer Island in Winthrop.

The ban will divert food waste to energy-generating and composting facilities and reduce the Commonwealth’s waste stream.

“We are committed to protecting our natural resources and creating jobs as the Commonwealth’s clean energy economy grows,” said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Rick Sullivan. “The disposal ban is critical to achieving our aggressive waste disposal reduction goals and it is in line with our commitment to increase clean energy production.”

The ban, regulated by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), will require any entity that disposes of at least one ton of organic material per week to donate or re-purpose the useable food. Any remaining food waste will be shipped to anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities like the one in Deer Island from facilities like Charlestown, where it will be converted to clean energy, or sent to composting and animal-feed operations.

Turning food into fuel here in Charlestown is part of a pilot program that will kick in later this year through grant money.

MassDEP and DOER awarded the first AD grant of $100,000 to the MWRA’s wastewater treatment plant at Deer Island. The MWRA currently processes sludge in 12 massive, egg-shaped digesters and utilizes the biogas created to provide heat and electricity for the plant. A pilot project later this year will introduce food waste from the facility in Charlestown into one of the chambers to determine the effects of co-digestion on operations and biogas production.

The original plan was to process the food waste in Charlestown and ship it to Winthrop via truck. Winthrop residents cried foul and fought to block the truck shipments of food waste through the streets.

There was then a regional push to get the state to quickly approve the proposed organic material processing and transportation facility at the Charlestown Maritime Center.

Without the Charlestown plant up and running, the MWRA was seeking to ship eighteen truckloads per day, seven days per week, of food waste from other facilities using community roads surrounding the Deer Island plant. This had neighbors of Deer Island up in arms over the plan.

In March, the state expedited the permitting process for the Charlestown facility in order for the facility to accommodate barge shipments instead of the truck shipments to Deer Island.

In March Sullivan determined the proposed Charlestown Maritime Center project does not require the preparation of a Environmental Impact Report for an organic material processing and transportation facility at the site.

This helped speed up the permitting process and would remove all the trucks from neighborhood streets delivering the alternative fuel source to Deer Island once the program begins.

In his ruling Secretary Sullivan wrote, “The ENF has sufficiently defined the nature and general elements of the project for the purposed MEPA review and demonstrated that the project’s environmental impacts will be avoided, minimized and/or mitigated to the extent practicable. I find no further MEPA review is required at this time.”

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