Catalyzing Investment in Urban Sustainability
U.S.-Brazil Joint Initiative on
Urban Sustainability


Organic Materials Management

U.S. EPA policy on organic materials management makes source reduction and food recovery priorities in order to achieve a wide range of benefits, including renewable energy production.

Policy Overview

In the U.S., over two thirds of the municipal waste (MSW) stream is composed of organic materials, including food waste, landscaping waste, and commercial waste. U.S. EPA's sustainable organic materials management policies, guided by a food recovery hierarchy, focus on resource recovery goals.

These policies support management of organic materials in sustainable ways that emphasize the value of these materials for society and also significantly reduce the volume of waste sent to landfills. Diverting organic materials from landfills yields significant economic, social, and environmental benefits. In addition to preserving landfill capacity and preventing greenhouse gases, actions that divert organics from landfills feed persons in need and create jobs. Organics can be used to produce compost that restores damaged soils and makes them more productive for agricultural and landscaping purposes. Through anaerobic digestion, waste organics generate renewable energy to replace fossil fuels.

How to Apply this Policy

U.S. EPA particularly encourages organics management policies undertaken in cooperation with households, the food service and hospitality industries, colleges and universities, and arenas and stadiums. These approaches both funnel surplus food to those in need and send inedible food waste to anaerobic digesters for energy and compost production. Incorporating paper and landscape construction and maintenance wastes into organic recycling plans can generate significant additional energy and compost production.

U.S. EPA's Food Recovery Challenge (FRC) allows partners to track their food diversion progress in the ReTRAC data management system. FRC currently is working to recruit partners in three key priority sectors: grocery stores; universities; and sports and entertainment venues (e.g., stadiums). The grocery store sector is the second largest food waste generator (responsible for 3.7 million tons of food waste each year), while universities produce the largest amount of food waste per site (4,000+ universities dispose of over 1 million tons of food waste each year). The sports and entertainment venues sector offer an exceptional outreach opportunity to achieve food recovery goals that both achieve operational efficiencies and provide economic benefits. U.S. EPA currently is working with the Stadium Managers Association (SMA) to explore partnership opportunities to promote these goals, including training sessions and technical assistance to urban planners, local governments, and venue/stadium owners and managers.

Contact Information
Jean Schwab
U.S. EPA, Office of Resource Conservation & Recovery
Phone: +1 (703) 308-8669

In 2009, Seattle, WA, USA, began requiring single-family households to recycle their food waste, which is then mixed with yard waste from Seattle residences to create compost. Seattle now is laying the groundwork to use the food waste to generate energy via an anaerobic digester. The resulting gas can be used to power the composting operation and also be converted into compressed natural gas that will fuel vehicles or generate electricity necessary for approximately 400 homes.