Policies for Source Separated Organics

Source separation is pivotal to maximizing the environmental and economic potential of organic materials. Numerous U.S. communities require residential and commercial sectors to separate for recycling or composting a variety of materials, including yard trimmings, food scraps and paper products. Find examples of state and local legislation below.

Between 1990 and 2000, the amount of yard waste disposed in landfills or incinerators fell dramatically as nearly half of U.S. states enacted legislation to keep these materials out of the landfill. While only 12% of yard waste was diverted in 1990, more than 50% was diverted by 2000, and the rate now stands above 60%. View a list of states with yard waste bans.

A List of Cities and States as of 2021 with Yard Waste Bans

2004 study for the State of Delaware on the effects of a yard waste ban concluded the following on the reach and effectiveness of yard waste restrictions: First, the definition of yard waste varies from state to state. Some states include only grass and leaves while other states include land-clearing debris, shrubbery and tree stumps. Second, the scope and enforcement of the landfill ban also varies by state. Some states permit only minimal qualities of yard waste in mixed loads while others are more lenient and ban loads containing only yard waste. Despite the differences, states with yard waste bans received significantly less yard waste per capita than states without bans. The report also estimated that a ban on yard waste disposal would increase the amount of yard trimmings treated onsite through grassmulching or onsite mulching and composting operations. Estimates for the state of Delaware show yard waste disposal would decrease from 234 pounds per capita to 76 pounds per capita, a 68% decrease, with about 30% of this material treated onsite.

Legislative Examples

The State of Massachusetts prohibits the disposal of leaves and yard waste, including grass clippings, weeds, garden materials, shrub trimmings, and brush 1″ or less in diameter. The state offers guidance on how waste facilities can comply with the restrictions, including load inspections, ongoing monitoring, sample letters and recommended signage.

The State of Oregon sets tiered materials recovery and waste reduction goals, including 50% recovery and no annual increase in waste generation by 2009. The state goals also require the city, county or metropolitan service district to create the opportunity to recycle, including the establishment of “An effective residential yard debris collection and composting program that includes the promotion of home composting of yard debris, and that also includes either: (A) Monthly or more frequent on-route collection of yard debris from residences for production of compost or other marketable products; or (B) A system of yard debris collection depots conveniently located and open to the public at least once a week…‘Yard debris’ includes grass clippings, leaves, hedge trimmings and similar vegetative waste generated from residential property or landscaping activities, but does not include stumps or similar bulky wood materials.”

Local jurisdictions, including county and municipal governments, and individual landfills also ban yard waste from disposal or require recycling. For example, Sonoma County, CA prohibits yard debris and woody debris from disposal, along with scrap metal, major appliances, corrugated cardboard, and tires. While the state of Maryland bans separately collected loads of yard waste from disposal, Montgomery County, MD requires the recycling of yard waste along with commingled containers, mixed paper, and scrap metal.

In recent years, yard waste bans have been under attack by the waste industry in an effort to promote the use of bioreactor landfill and to push landfill gas capture over resource conservation. In 2003, the state of Iowa considered a repeal of its yard waste ban but the governor vetoed the bill, stating “This action will be a major step backwards for integrated solid waste management creating a need for communities to expand existing facilities or find new property for landfills. Yard waste is best managed at a composting facility and is one of the keys in improving Iowa’s water quality. Collecting methane from landfills is still relatively inefficient. As urged by numerous recycling groups who support integrated solid waste management, pollution is best prevented by not disposing of yard waste at a landfill.” Keeping yard debris out of landfills is the only practice to fully prevent methane emissions and to capture the valuable nutrients in these materials and to return them to our depleted soils. Learn more about the fight to repeal yard waste bans.

The U.S. generated 31.3 million tons of food waste in 2006, but only 680,000 tons were diverted from the landfill-that’s only a 2.2% recovery rate! This makes food waste the second largest material by weight headed to our landfills and a huge source of methane emissions. Momentum for change is picking up across the country as communities initiate programs to collect source separated food scraps from residents and businesses.

Stockton, CA
In the city of Stockton, “recyclable material, green waste and food waste shall be separated from other solid waste for collection…‘Food Waste’ means all source-separated vegetable waste, fruit waste, grain waste, and dairy waste, meat waste, fish waste, food-contaminated paper and other compostable paper (such as pizza boxes, take-out containers, napkins and paper towels), and untreated and unpainted wall board co-collected with green waste…‘Green Waste’ means biodegradable materials such as leaves, grass, weeds, and wood materials from trees and shrubs.”

Nova Scotia
In 1995, Nova Scotia rewrote its resource management goals to meet 50% by 2000 and has since become an international leader in organics recovery and Zero Waste. The province implemented disposal bans on organic waste including food scraps, yard waste, and soiled paper, as well as beverage containers, glass containers, and metal cans; cardboard and newsprint; tires, car batteries, and antifreeze; #2 plastic containers and polyethylene bags and packaging; and used paint. Ninety percent of residents in Nova Scotia have access to curbside composting and recycling collection.

Through a combination of voluntary and mandatory approaches, the U.S. has reached 50% paper recovery. However, in order to recover more than 75% of paper through recycling and composting, we really need to step up our efforts. Mandatory source separation and paper recycling ordinances help to ensure everyone in the community is doing their part. Below is a sampling of communities requiring source separation and/or paper recycling:

City and County Level

Montgomery County, MD
Commercial generators, residents and multi-family dwellers must recycle mixed paper including office paper, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, boxboard, magazines/catalogs, telephone books and paperback books. Recycling of commingled containers, scrap metal and yard trimmings are also required.

New York City, NY
Businesses must source separate corrugated cardboard, office paper, newspapers, magazines/catalogs, phone books. Food or beverage establishments must recycle corrugated cardboard along with containers.

San Diego, CA
The city of San Diego launched mandatory recycling for residents in 2008 and will phase in the program at businesses and multi-family units over the next two years. Occupants must participate in the recycling program provided by the city or the franchise hauler, and that recycling program must collect paper, newspaper, and cardboard. Metal containers, plastic bottles and jars, and glass containers are also included. Business regulations may also apply to materials such as wood pallets, scrap metal and food waste, if markets exist and as determined by the Director of the Environmental Service Department.

Portland, OR
All businesses shall recycle designated materials and all MFUs must establish recycling systems. Recyclables include, but are not limited to newspaper, scrap paper, ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal, used motor oil, corrugated cardboard and kraft paper, container glass, aluminum, tin cans, magazines, aseptic packaging, coated paper milk cartons, steel aerosol cans, plastic bottles, office paper, cooking grease, wood, rubble and other materials as may be designated by the city. Residents receive recycling service through franchised haulers.

Seattle, WA
Commercial establishments must separate paper, cardboard, and yard waste for recycling while residents in both single family and multi-family dwellings shall separate for recycling paper, cardboard, glass and plastic bottles, and aluminum and tin cans.

State Level

Businesses with 15 or more employees at one location must recycle office paper and corrugated cardboard.

New Jersey
The state requires each county to develop and adopt a recycling plan that includes the recycling of grass clippings and at least three other recyclable materials. View the list of materials required by counties in both the residential and commercial sector.

The Mandatory Recycling Regulations designate nine items that must be recycled in the state: glass food containers, metal food containers, old newspaper, corrugated cardboard, scrap metal, leaves, waste oil, lead acid batteries and high-grade white office paper.

Municipalities with populations of at least 10,000, and municipalities with populations between 5,000 and 10,000 and more than 300 persons per square mile, must implement curbside programs. All disposal facilities provide recycling drop-off centers. Mandated municipalities collect at least 3 of the following materials: clear glass; colored glass; plastics; aluminum; steel and bimetallic cans; high grade office paper; corrugated paper and newsprint. Commercial, municipal and institutional establishments within a mandated municipality are required to recycle aluminum, high-grade office paper and corrugated paper in addition to other materials chosen by the municipality.

Disposal Ban

Wisconsin banned the disposal of several materials between 1991 and 1995. In 1993, the state banned the disposal of yard waste. In 1995, Wisconsin added aluminum containers, corrugated paper, plastics #1-#7 (if a market develops for the more difficult to recycle plastics), foam PS packaging (provided market development), glass containers, magazines, newspaper, office paper, steel containers, bi-metal containers, and waste tires.

The state of Massachusetts bans leaves and yard waste; lead-acid batteries; whole tires at landfills; white goods (e.g., large appliances); paper and cardboard; metal, glass, and plastic containers; and cathode-ray tubes (e.g., from televisions and computer screens) from disposal.