LOWELL -- The lumpy, ground-up food scraps that cover the bottom of a trash barrel in the basement of UMass Lowell's Fox Hall is what David Cash calls 58 pounds of "awesomeness."
Gone are the days when food waste was automatically sent to landfills.
Once it's picked up by Casella Waste Systems' collection truck, this seemingly yucky brown substance becomes part of the company's composting operation, which turns a range of waste products, from paper fiber to ash to food wastes, into fertilization and landscaping products.
Now that the state prohibits any establishment that produces a large amount of food waste from being thrown away, the new regulation would only create more business opportunities for companies like Casella, based in Vermont, while helping universities, hospitals, hotels and restaurants around the state save money on waste hauling, said Cash, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"Right here. Economic opportunity," Cash said, pointing to the food scraps in the barrel as he carted it onto the collection truck while visiting UMass Lowell on Wednesday.
"I'm wheeling this into the clean environmental future," he said.
State officials visited UML to celebrate the launch of the food-waste ban, as the first regulation of its kind in the nation took effect Wednesday.
UMass Lowell, which has made recycling, energy conservation and carbon-footprint reduction a top priority over the years, had begun composting its food waste a year ago after student members of an environmental group on campus proposed the idea.
University officials and Cash toured the dining hall at Fox Hall, where 800 of the university's 4,000 on-campus students live, introducing the operation as a successful example of food-waste recycling that the new ban is intended to promote.
The ban requires any business/institution that has one ton or more food waste per week, per site, to donate extra "useable" foods or "re-purpose" them while sending the remaining food waste to composting or animal-feed operations or to an anaerobic digestion facility for energy production.
There are about 1,700 establishments to which the ban applies, of which 1,400 are in compliance, according to Cash's office.
The regulation should help the state reach a goal of reducing the waste stream by 30 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050, said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Maeve Valley Bartlett in the press release.
Cash said the regulation is a "win-win" for those involved. That's because waste haulers usually charge less for composting materials than for solid waste.
Lowell General Hospital recently installed a new energy-efficient dishwasher and a food-waste decomposition system, both of which work together to decompose all sorts of food waste, from vegetable scraps to meat bones, within 24 hours.
The machine produces a gray-water byproduct that "exceeds government standards for safe disposal into existing municipal wastewater sewer systems," according to the hospital.
The benefit isn't just for the environment. The dishwasher is expected to save the hospital $34,000 a year in energy costs, hospital officials said.
UMass Lowell began working with Casella and food-service provider Aramark 15 months ago to turn the students' idea into a reality, according to Richard Lemoine, director of environmental and emergency management at the university. It was the first Casella Organics project for the contractor to take on in Massachusetts, said Casella Organics Business Development Manager Liza Casella.
The university now has food wastes from all its facilities -- including cafes on campus -- composted. With 17,000 students enrolled, the university expects to see 400,000 tons of food waste to be shipped for composting per year.
The university believes this will help reduce the cost of waste hauling in the future.