Risks of Food Waste Recovery: Characterizing the Contaminants in MSW Organics from Different Sources

Investigator: University of Maine

Start Date:
April 2018

Award Amount:
$143,000

To approach a more sustainable food system in the United States, our system must become more energy, water and material-efficient. The ideal model is a circularized food system that eliminates waste by returning nutrients to agricultural soils while minimizing water and energy use. Movement toward organic waste recovery and nutrient recycling presents emergent risks that must be included in planning to ensure the safety of a more circular food system.

Different strategies for waste organics recovery produce materials of varying quality and energy content. The market value and social acceptance of the residuals depend on both the quality of the product, which is related to input material quality and processing, and the end-users’ trust in the product. With more organic material collected from mixed waste streams there is the possibility for new – unforeseen, unregulated and emergent – risks to arise.

The primary goal of this research is to identify the emergent risks associated with more cyclical food systems and to identify appropriate management procedures, policies and programs to reduce these risks. The objectives are:

  1. To screen for contamination of input organic wastes (commingled and sorted organics from various sources) from three states with different regulatory environments ranging from mandated separation of organics to completely voluntary/subscription-based separation.
  2. To survey a group of waste management practitioners and stakeholders to explore risk perceptions associated with various feedstocks and practices.