Rhode Island’s only landfill, in Johnston, is on track to be filled by 2038. The big question facing the state is: Then what?
While it is obviously not the complete answer, diverting food scraps from schools, restaurants, food- processing plants, resorts, prisons, hospitals and other large institutions is one action supported by state lawmakers that could help slow the rising tide of trash at the state’s Central Landfill.
The General Assembly last week was expected to give final approval to legislation that would require large producers of food scraps to have the organic waste composted or processed by an anaerobic digesting facility if there’s one within 15 miles or to use the scraps for agriculture. Anaerobic digesters don’t use oxygen from the air, compared to composting, which does.
The legislation, which needs Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee’s approval, is a step in the right direction, said Michael OConnell, executive director of the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation, which operates the landfill.
“The idea of the legislation is to keep the organic waste out of the landfill and we’d all love to do that, but there’s no infrastructure to make it happen,” said OConnell. “It depends on how much organic waste would get diverted from the landfill to digesters – which don’t exist.”
Rhode Island only has one commercial-scale composting site, in Charlestown, that takes food scraps. A company called NEO Energy is working to establish an anaerobic digestion facility in Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.
Johnson & Wales University has been using an anaerobic digester at its culinary school for more than a year. “I’ve been to see the digester at Johnson & Wales,” said OConnell. “It can do 750 pounds a day, not even one-half of one ton. The process has value, but it’s not scaled up.”
Organic waste probably makes up about 15 percent of the landfill content, although the specific breakdown of waste products won’t be known until a current study in progress is completed, said OConnell.
In theory, if about a dozen digesters were immediately available and 15 percent of the waste was diverted for 25 years, the capacity of the landfill would be extended by about four years, estimated OConnell.