TRENTON — Significant legislation that would require food waste to be recycled by places that generate a lot of it, like supermarkets, hospitals and prisons, was passed Thursday by the Senate and is on its way to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.

The bill, A2371/S865, has had an unusual few weeks. It was advanced Feb. 20 by an Assembly committee where a majority of members opposed it and said they expected changes that were never made. And in Thursday’s debate, the opposition was led by a majority Democrat – and the differences were on display for all to see, rather than worked out privately.

Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, said he was offering hostile amendments to a bill for the first time in his nearly 20-year legislative career. He was elected to the Assembly in 2002, then moved to the Senate in 2003, and has never served in the legislative minority.

Sarlo wanted what he called “a very, very silly bill” amended to return to the version that passed last year, only to be conditionally vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

“The bill before you today is not practical. It’s not practical,” Sarlo said. “The only other state in the country that has done this is California, and where these plants are located, the odors are completely noxious to the point where they’re having hearings on whether or not they should close them.”

Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said California isn’t the only state with a food-waste law and named others in the Northeast with similar efforts.

“Change is hard,” Smith said. “Landfills are the third largest source of methane in the world. Methane has 84 times the impact of carbon dioxide. We have 133 miles of shoreline. We’ve been superstormed to death. We have to do everything we possibly can to turn around the global climate change that’s rushing at us now.”

Smith said the goal is to encourage the construction of more food waste-to-energy facilities. Places that generate 52 tons or more of food waste a year would have to separate their food waste from other solid waste and send it to an authorized recycling facility, if one exists within 25 miles.

Sarlo and other opponents of the bill say it will be too costly, including for public entities and by extension taxpayers. And they said it will undermine gas-to-energy facilities at public and private landfills, into which millions of dollars in public funds have been invested.

“This bill would destroy those systems. It would just completely destroy those systems because you’re taking out the food waste which helps to generate the methane gas to put into the energy system,” Sarlo said.

Smith said the law would affect about 15% of the food waste and that the rest would still be sent to landfills.

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A few Democratic senators who voted for the bill said they wanted to work on the issue further to ensure the facilities wouldn’t be built in places where they would further harm air quality in cities. They said an environmental justice bill currently winding through the Legislature would address that concern.

The bill passed mostly but not entirely along partisan lines. Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-Somerset, joined Republicans in voting yes. Sens. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, and Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson, joined Sarlo in voting no. Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex, didn’t vote, saying she wanted more information about where new facilities would be built.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at

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