Vermont's Universal Recycling Law: What to Do with Food Scraps Starting July 1
The average Vermonter generates almost six pounds of waste each day. Two pounds of that waste is either recycled or composted, which means that every single day we all throw away a four-pound bag of trash. That’s a lot!
To help with this burgeoning waste problem, Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, or Act 148, was passed in 2012. The law has two primary goals—to reduce Vermont’s overall waste and increase the amount of waste that is diverted from the landfill through recycling and composting. It has been instituted incrementally over the past six years with the final phase—the complete landfill ban on food scraps—coming on July 1.
In 2015, the first landfill ban went into effect when certain recyclables were banned from the trash. As many Vermonters, and other people around the United States, had already been recycling for years, this was not such a momentous change. The landfill ban on food scraps started in 2014 for large generators of food waste, like hospitals and colleges. Over the next six years, mid-size and smaller food waste generators were gradually required to separate their food scraps from the trash. As of July 1, we will reach the full ban that requires all of us to keep our food and food scraps out of the trash.
The nearly 1,500 pounds of waste you create each year? It could be much less. While much of what we use on a daily basis in modern society is unfortunately designed to go in the trash, a significant amount of waste that does end up in the trash could have been reused, recycled, or composted.
SAVE MONEY AND SAVE THE PLANET?
You can with our VGreen Money Market account. Now that's a win-win.
Reducing our food waste will be a new habit for some people, but it doesn’t take long for it to become second nature, as many Vermonters can attest.
How can you get started? Here are a few options.
- Compost at home. If you have the space and the inclination, the easiest option might be to compost in your yard. Some Vermonters already compost at home, and the State hopes this activity will spread and become a statewide habit for those who want to try. Solar digesters are another low-maintenance at-home compost option. Not sure where to start? Check out my beginner’s guide on how to compost at home for additional tips and tricks.
- Bring food scraps to a transfer station or bag-drop. If you don’t want to or can’t compost at home, you can bring food scraps to a local transfer station or compost facility. Transfer stations across Vermont accept food scraps, some free of charge and others for a small fee. Find your closest facility by contacting your local solid waste management district.
- Curbside pick-up. In some areas of Vermont, you can sign up for curbside pick-up of food scraps. Ask your trash hauler if they provide this service or consult this list of food scrap haulers.
- Join a community compost site. Community compost sites are also available in some areas of Vermont where people set up a larger compost system and share the work. Ask your local solid waste management district if there are any in your community.
Why does the State want food scraps out of the landfill? Food is the largest single material that ends up in landfills. In 2018, about 20% of what was disposed in Vermont’s only active landfill in Coventry—77,000 tons—was food waste. Again, that’s a lot of wasted food and food scraps!
If we can remove food scraps from the trash, we free up the space in the landfill for other items that have no current value or the ability to be reused. Not only do food scraps take up valuable space in the landfill, but they also contribute to global warming. When organic material, including food waste, gets packed down inside landfill cells where there is no oxygen, it does not decompose as in a compost pile, but instead gives off methane, a very powerful greenhouse gas that accelerates climate change.
Deciding how to manage inevitable food scraps like banana peels and eggshells is a great time to work on reducing your food waste as well. Remember the three R’s? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. By focusing first on the first R, you’ll also have fewer scraps to manage.
There are many ways to reduce your food waste, such as making a rough meal plan before you go shopping, learning the best ways to store foods at home, and getting creative in the kitchen to use up leftovers. As a bonus, this can help you save money as well!
Another great way to reduce waste is to donate edible food you can’t use to your local food shelf—especially in this time of need. As a result of the Universal Recycling Law, grocers and other food retailers have been donating lots of great food that they can’t sell to the Vermont Foodbank and other food shelves. This helps feed people in need and keeps food, a valuable resource, out of the landfill.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.
About Anne Bijur
Anne Bijur joined the Waste Management and Prevention Division of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources in 2017 and works with a team to implement Vermont’s recycling, composting, and waste reduction initiatives. She is a sustainability professional with more than 15 years’ experience designing and delivering education and communication programs for both the non-profit and private sector, including Shelburne Farms and AllEarth Renewables.