Category Archives: Recycling

NYC Issues Compostable School Food Tray Solicitation

New York City has issued a request for bids for compostable plates used to serve over 150 million meals per year in New York City public school cafeterias. [i]

The resulting contract will be available for use by school districts that are members of the Urban School Food Alliance, including: Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Orange County and Miami-Dade County school districts. Combined, these school districts serve ~2.6 million meals daily and procure more than $530 million in food and food supplies annually.[ii] The bid is for a five year contract.

Key aspects of the specification include[iii]:

  • 5 compartments able to hold 5 meal components
  • Center compartment able to hold a ½ pint milk carton or bottle.
  • Round or oval shapes for compartments are acceptable
  • Prefer no pre-consumer materials used and where possible made entirely from one primary material such as sugarcane, post- consumer paper, wheat, etc.
  • Must be food safe for all type and varieties of food and have FDA GRAS certification for food contact.
  • Must not have a wax or plastic coating (polypropylene)[iv]
  • Must be sturdy and durable, able to endure hot and cold food without seepage. Water proof and minor oil proof.
  • All components of the product must be 100% certified compostable.
  • Tested by a Biodegradable Products Institute certified lab and shown to be compliant with ASTM D6868.

The solicitation notes that the NYC Department of Education Food Program includes frozen foods, fresh produce, snack, grocery and non-food related cafeteria items, dairy, and baked goods. It also suggests that vendor familiarize themselves with food items served in the National School Food Lunch Program to better meet the needs of the districts.

Opportunity for Recyclable and Compostable Trays

While the solicitation specifies compostable trays, there is an opportunity to create trays that are both compostable and recyclable to provide greater choice regarding waste management options for each district. Cafeteria Culture an organization which has been instrumental in creating the shift toward zero waste school cafeterias in New York City has implemented the flip, tap, stack method of sorting which results in a clean, sorted stream of trays. Separating the trays in this way produces a stream of trays that can then be sent to a recycling or composting facility depending on the local infrastructure and the suitability of the design of the tray for recycling.

Please watch Cafeteria Culture’s video to see how it works:

How to Apply

Bids are due Nov. 19th at 4:00pm. A pre-bid conference will be held on Nov. 4th at 2:30pm.

The solicitation and requirements can be downloaded from the vendor portal here: https://vendorportal.nycenet.edu.


[i] Combined breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners.

[ii] Urban School Food Alliance Celebrates One Year. July 15, 2013. Food Management. http://food-management.com/k-12-schools/urban-school-food-alliance-celebrates-one-year

[iii] Please download the solicitation for detailed specifications including dimension, thickness, etc.

[iv] Polypropylene is the only plastic coating explicitly specified in the specification included in the solicitation.

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Impact of Transportation on Overall Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Food Waste Recovery Systems

Q: How many additional miles can a ton of food waste that will ultimately be composted travel before there is no longer a net greenhouse gas emissions reduction compared to the existing MSW disposal option?

A: 571 miles is approximately the additional one way transit (collection and long haul) before waste to energy and composting are of equal value from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective.

Municipalities considering implementing organics recovery programs often ask about the greenhouse gas emissions of composting, waste to energy, and landfill and generally how to think about trade-offs in transportation distances between the options.

To help with understanding the relative magnitude of the emissions, here’s a back of the envelope calculation along with some additional variables to keep in mind should your municipality or business be wrestling with the same questions.

Based on national averages, U.S. EPA’s Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery have developed the following greenhouse gas emissions factors for food waste and incorporated them into its Waste Reduction Model:

Net Emissions for Organics under Each Materials Management Option (MTCO2E/Short Ton)[1]

Compost Combustion Landfill with Methane Capture Landfill Nat’l Average
Food Waste -0.2 -0.12 0.34 0.69
Notes Aerobic composting only. Does not include anaerobic digestion. Based on mass burn waste to energy facilities.
Note: The negative values means there is carbon storage or an overall greenhouse gas emissions reduction.

Transportation Emissions

ICLEI’s Solid Waste Emission Activities and Sources Protocol proposes an emissions factor of 0.00014 mtCO2e/wet short ton/mile for use of diesel trucks for long haul transport. [2]

 Putting It All Together

According to the table above, there is a 0.08 mtCO2e/short of food waste benefit for composting compared to waste to energy (-0.2- -0.12= -0.08).

0.08/0.00014 = 571 miles. Therefore, 571 miles is approximately the additional one way transit (collection and long haul) before waste to energy and composting are of equal value from a greenhouse gas emissions perspective.

Additional Considerations

  • From an economic and environmental perspective, recovering food waste locally generally makes sense. It was estimated in 2012 that the cost of long haul transport of commercial food waste from New York City was approximately $4/ton/mile. [3]
  • The fuel efficiency of in-city collection is likely lower than long haul transport. Check with your local sanitation or public works department regarding fuel efficiency of waste collection and incorporate these numbers for a more accurate projection. Similarly, this assumes MSW, recycling, and food waste truck routes are optimized and all trucks are at capacity.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions reduction from anaerobic digestion would be even greater than aerobic composting. Toronto uses biogas generated from its anaerobic digester to fuel its trucks. To learn more, check out Harvest Power’s blog on how food  waste can fuel its own collection plus produce energy.
  • There are other reasons to compost and reduce truck trip besides reducing greenhouse emissions and additional technologies that have not been presented. Please contact Resource Strategies or stay tuned for future blogs to learn more.

[1] U.S. EPA Waste Reduction Model. Updated June 2013. http://epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/tools/warm/index.html

[2] ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability USA. Oct. 2012. U.S. Community Protocol for Accounting and Reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Appendix E: Solid Waste Emission Activities and Sources, Version 1.0. http://www.icleiusa.org/tools/ghg-protocol/community-protocol/community-protocol-overview

[3] De la Houssaye, M. and A. White. 2012. Economics of New York City Commercial MSW Collection & Disposal and Source-Separated Food Waste Collection & Composting: Opportunities to Reduce Costs of Food Waste Collection & Recovery. A Global Green USA Coalition for Resource Recovery Discussion Document. http://resourcestrategiesconsulting.com/pubs/NYC_Commercial_EconomicsofCompostingandMSWreport.PDF.

The DC Recycles Opportunity: Advancing Washington DC’s Sustainable Resource Recovery Goals through Private Sector Engagement

At the August 6th session on Maximizing Waste Diversion and Business Value convened by the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, Resource Strategies presented initial plans for DC Recycles, a new initiative undertaken in collaboration with the Downtown DC Business Improvement District, to engage the private sector in the identification and implementation of sustainable, cost-effective waste diversion solutions for the Washington DC metropolitan region in support of Washington DC’s newly released Sustainability Plan.

The Opportunity

In 2011, the Downtown DC Business Improvement District was officially declared an ecodistrict committed to advancing neighborhood-scale sustainability through committing to achieving ambitious sustainability performance goals, guiding district investments and community action, and tracking the results over time.[i]

The Downtown DC Business Improvement District is a 140 block area in the heart of Washington DC. It includes 90 million square feet of built space of which 68 million sq feet is office space. It also is home to 6,000 residents and includes over 100 restaurants and 40 hotels.[1] It provides an ideal location for piloting and advancing resource recovery technologies and programs.

In partnership with the DC Department of Environment, The Downtown DC Business Improvement District currently is piloting the DC Smarter Business Challenge as a means of benchmarking the sustainability of individual buildings and businesses in order to identify specific needs, opportunities and market gaps. The DC Smarter Business Challenge currently includes 114 participating buildings, or 32 million square feet of built space throughout DC. Participating companies include: Akridge, American Public Health Association, American Society of Landscape Architects, Boston Properties, Brookfield Office Properties, Cassidy Turley, Cushman & Wakefield, District Department of the Environment, Department of General Services, DowntownDC BID, Executive Travel Associates, Hines, Jones Lang LaSalle, OTJ Architects, Property Group Partners, The JBG Companies, The Tower Companies, Transwestern, Shorenstein, and Vornado/ Charles E. Smith. [1]

As part of the DC Smarter Business Challenge, a survey was conducted of which 65 buildings participated and the following results were found:

  • More than 50% are LEED Existing Building certified or registered
  • 58 of 65 planning for waste audit in 2013 or 2014[1]

The interest demonstrated by leading property managers participating in the DC Smarter Business Challenge combined with survey results noting a desire by property managers to increase diversion rates provides a unique opportunity to assist them in being a national solution. In addition, through these waste audits a baseline of performance will be measured creating the opportunity to document the success of newly implemented waste diversion technologies and programs.

The Downtown DC Business Improvement District is seeking to support its members in achieving sustainability goals through assisting in identifying the best practices in metrics and reporting and facilitating a waste management working group that will determine priorities moving forward. Resource Strategies through its DC Recycles program and in collaboration with the Downtown DC Ecodistrict, seeks to assist the private sector in coordinating, evaluating, and promoting successful pilot programs and the transfer of best practices throughout the Washington DC metro region. Given that the commercial sector generates 75% of waste in the District of Columbia, the private sector has a real opportunity to advance sustainable materials management and infrastructure development for the region while at the same time growing green jobs and generating business value. [ii]

If you are interested in getting involved or learning more, please contact Resource Strategies.


[i] Adapted from Portland Sustainability Institute’s ecodistrict definition

[ii]Document states that commercial waste comprises 75% of waste generated in Washington, DC. Waste Working Group. Notes from Kick Off Meeting. Nov. 29, 2011. http://sustainable.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ddoe/publication/attachments/SDC_Waste_WG_Notes_11-29-11.pdf