School Recycling Bill Focused on Reducing Food Waste
May 31, 2021
PROVIDENCE — A bill establishing the structure of a school recycling program focused on reducing food waste will be considered by the full House of Representatives.
The 15-member House Education Committee voted May 25 to approve an amended version of the bill (H5328 Substitute A) after one member of the panel said she opposed the measure because of an “unfunded mandate” to be shouldered by school districts.
The bill, which was sponsored by nine lawmakers, seeks to reduce school food and paper waste in cooperation with the state departments of education and environmental management, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) and individual communities.
At the outset of the hearing, the committee voted to discard the original version of the bill and use a substitute with amendments, including a new target date of September 2021 for the rules to take effect.
The legislation would require all K-12 and vocational schools to produce a “waste audit” report with guidelines and strategies meant to eliminate food waste, promote recycling and provide excess food to their communities. The audits would be conducted free of charge in coordination with the RIRRC.
School districts would require food-service companies seeking contracts to comply with relevant recycling and compositing laws. Districts would be encouraged to use vendors buying 10 percent of their supplies from Rhode Island-based companies, with a requirement for the companies to donate unserved nonperishable or unspoiled perishable food to local food banks or the Rhode Island Community Food Bank in line with the Department of Health’s Rhode to End Hunger initiative.
Rules requiring use of an authorized “composting facility or anaerobic digestion facility” would apply to schools producing 30 or more tons of organic waste material annually.
The bill’s text notes about 13 percent of residents, comprising about 56,000 households, are assisted by surplus food donations in Rhode Island, where “a significant percentage of school waste is recyclable.”
Committee members Rep. Sherry Roberts, R-West Greenwich, and Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, R-Cranston, voted against the amended bill.
Fenton-Fung took issue with how the measure would be funded, saying the amendments do not address an anticipated 25 percent to 30 percent increase in disposal fees — those increases, however, will occur regardless of whether this bill is passed. She said the percentage increase information was taken from conversations with recycling industry professionals.
Since the bill wouldn’t require the state to cover fee increases, the legislation would effectively place an unfunded mandate on municipalities, according to Fenton-Fung. She claimed the bill would force an additional expenditure of more than $25,000 onto Cranston’s budget. However, regardless of the full House’s vote on the School Waste Recycling and Refuse Disposal bill, there is no mechanism requiring the state to cover disposal fee increases for municipalities.
“Even though I love this bill and I actually hate voting against something that I believe in so much, because we are not funding it and passing it along to the local school districts, there’s no way I can support it,” Fenton-Fung said.
“It’s just interesting there was no testimony relating to that,” committee chair Rep. Joseph McNamara, D-Warwick, said in response to Fenton-Fung’s explanation of her dissenting vote.
There was no additional discussion before the committee’s majority approved the bill, which was subsequently placed on the House calendar for June 1.
A 2018 bill filed by Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport, sought to require school waste haulers and other vendors to comply with state recycling and composting laws. The law was rarely enforced and most elementary schools did not produce enough food waste to fall within the bounds of the compositing statute. The bill would have expanded composting regulations to include public schools.
Carson, who also is a sponsor of the new school recycling measure, described the 2018 measure as an effort to facilitate learning, save money and help feed school children and low-income residents.
“We’re buying this food. We’re throwing a lot of it away. We’re spending a lot of money on it,” Carson said at the time.
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