By July 1, 2020, Vermonters will have to keep food scraps out of their trash bins. The requirement is the final step in the multi-stage implementation of Act 148, the state’s universal recycling law.
Passed in 2012, Act 148 updated the state’s waste management plan to reduce the amount of waste Vermonters send to the landfill and instead put it to better use. The act quotes a waste composition study that showed over half the state’s waste is comprised of recyclables, yard debris and food scraps, items that could be diverted and repurposed.
Michele Morris, spokesperson for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, said Chittenden County residents dump about 140,000 tons of trash every year to the state’s one landfill in the Northeast Kingdom, sending trucks on an almost 150-mile round trip every day. The landfill captures some of the methane, a greenhouse gas, emitted by the trash heap, but not all of it.
“There’s enough stuff in that landfill to feed the methane generator for years to come,” Morris said. “We don’t need to be wasting more food up there when we could be either not wasting it in the first place, or using it to improve local soils and reduce truck traffic.”
These were some of the primary factors in passing Act 148, Morris said. In 2014, the law required some of the largest producers of food waste — grocery stores, food manufacturers — to keep food waste out of the trash. In 2020, individual residents will finally be required to do the same.
Morris explained several options, including reducing waste from the start by donating unused consumables to food pantries, or feeding approved food waste to chickens or pigs. After that, residents will either need to haul their waste to a CSWD drop-off center or Green Mountain Compost, pay someone to do it or try composting in their own backyard.
When the law goes into effect, trash haulers like Casella, Myers and Gauthier’s Trucking must provide a food waste pickup service to residential customers. Currently, none do.
But legislators are debating that requirement in Montpelier this session. Morris said trash haulers don’t have the right equipment for this service and might not want to invest since the revenue stream isn’t guaranteed: Some residents may compost in their backyard or feed scraps to animals, making the business not economically viable.
“Why force companies that aren’t set up for this … into a business that they aren’t interested in, when there may be entrepreneurs who fill a niche and see an opportunity?” she asked.
Some have already grabbed ahold of the opportunity: Grow Compost, Earthgirl Composting and No Waste Compost are all food waste pickup companies that serve the greater Chittenden County area.
Jake Wollman founded No Waste Compost in July 2017 to “make a difference” on an ecological scale, they said. Wollman didn’t know about Act 148 when they started the business but said it’s an affirmation of their and their customers’ philosophy to keep food waste out of the landfill and create a more locally-connected, healthier community.
No Waste Compost offers customers weekly, bi-weekly and monthly food waste pickups for about the price of a Netflix subscription, depending on frequency and location. Wollman said as their customer base increases, especially as the countdown to July 1, 2020 continues, that price can go down.
Wollman said education on composting’s environmental benefits is paramount. Whether people use their business or not, they just want people composting.
Vermonters who compost in their yard get a break in the rules: They can put items like meat bones, oils and dairy products in their trash, as those items need to be processed at a commercial compost facility like Green Mountain Compost.
Many Vermonters already compost or feed food waste to livestock: A 2018 University of Vermont study showed 72 percent of residents do.
Judy Hansmann Hillis of Colchester said her family has composted fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and untreated paper products at her farm for years. They add in grass clippings and leaves and mix the resulting compost with manure for an organic fertilizer.
Kat Salemno of Milton said she composts in her backyard as well, and even purchased compostable plates and utensils for her son’s birthday party to avoid using plastic. To avoid going outside as often in the winter, her family uses a sealed compost bucket in the kitchen lined with compostable bags to make for easy transport and clean up.
Though The Sun spoke with many residents who already compost, several had questions about how to deal with animals that sniff out the compost piles. Others wondered if the regulations were worth it, with the added expense and effort it will take to sort out the scraps.
Sharone Ilene from Essex said she composts but manages four rental units where it adds an additional expense and headache to enforce. Fellow Essex resident Erin Bolger lives in a condo and isn’t sure how she’ll compost, but will figure out how to make it work.
Essex resident Tom Mechler said doesn’t compost but wants to start: “I would just need more education and information about it first,” he said.
Morris said the new requirement will be a “paradigm shift,” and compared it to the introduction of recycling 25 years ago.
“It’s going to be an ongoing educational effort,” Morris said, adding CSWD will bring their backyard composting workshops to local libraries and town halls and continue to educate those who need more information.
“You can expect to hear a lot more from the state and from [CSWD] as we approach 2020,” she said.