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Wealthy countries throw out a staggering amount of food. Americans alone, on average, get rid of an estimated 20 pounds a month, most of it hauled away with the trash. Beginning this fall, Massachusetts is sending a message to businesses, colleges and hospitals that produce large amounts of food waste - not in our landfill. Susan Kaplan reports.
SUSAN KAPLAN, BYLINE: Massachusetts' law now says if you throw out more than a ton of food waste a month, it can't go to a landfill. But what does a ton of food waste look like? For an answer, I went to a fairly big banquet hall called the Log Cabin.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let me get the chef to talk to you. Come on in.
KAPLAN: Mick Corduff runs the kitchen here.
MICK CORDUFF: In many parking lots and pizzerias and all that around the place, you'll often see a dumpster on the side of the building. Usually, one of those dumpsters holds about two and a half to three tons.
KAPLAN: But the Log Cabin already diverts their food waste.
CORDUFF: As far as getting our ducks in a row, we started probably five, six, seven years ago. It's not the easiest thing in the world. We do have a pig farm that we give compost buckets to.
KAPLAN: Turns out the Log Cabin's not alone.
DAVE CASH: I think it's about 75 percent are already moving forward with this.
KAPLAN: That's Dave Cash, Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection commissioner. He attributes the huge number of early adopters to nitty-gritty work that began about six years ago. All of which, he says, made for an unusually smooth legislative process.
CASH: Very rare for an environmental regulation to have no opposition, and this has had no opposition.
KAPLAN: The National Waste and Recycling Association's Steve Changaris says his group fully expected to testify against the legislation, but he says they didn't. The state's plan was so good that even the haulers could get behind it, but he says the ban is just a beginning.
STEVE CHANGARIS: It doesn't address where is it going to go, whether it's more expensive? It doesn't address whether it has to be shipped 300 miles. It doesn't address a whole boatload of things.
KAPLAN: Right now, there are only a few answers to the where's it going to go question. There are a couple of anaerobic digesters in the state - huge, enclosed machines that churn the waste, kind of like the inside of a cow's stomach. A lot of the food waste is trucked to farms or it can go to Bruce Fulford.
So we're looking at a giant pile of what - dirt or compost?
BRUCE FULFORD: This is compost with some soil blended in.
KAPLAN: Fulford's company, City Soil, runs one of Boston's composting sites. For about 15 years, Fulford's been transforming all kinds of organic waste and turning it into these huge, deep, rich brown piles of...
FULFORD: Compost with some soil blended in - composted food waste and yard waste blended together and some manure from the local zoo.
KAPLAN: And oddly enough, it doesn't smell that bad. It doesn't smell like garbage or manure.
FULFORD: If we could compost food waste right across from a golf course and multi-million dollar homes and do it well, we knew that we had an approach that was worth replicating.
KAPLAN: Composting companies like City Soil expect to get quite a bit of new business from the food waste ban, with energy company investors looking to develop new technologies and more anaerobic digesters. Massachusetts is not alone. Vermont, Connecticut and New York City are reducing or working on reducing food waste from landfills. And San Francisco's been doing it for more than a decade. Still, as of now, this is a drop in the garbage pail of the roughly 34 million tons of food Americans throw out a year. For NPR News, I'm Susan Kaplan.