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Vermont Officials Hold Meeting To Discuss Mandatory Composting

Vermont food scrap recycling logo
Vermont Agency of Natural Resources
Vermont food scrap recycling logo

In 2012, Vermont enacted The Universal Recycling Law.  It mandates the elimination of three categories of materials from trash bins and implements universal recycling beginning in 2020. The Agency of Natural Resources held a meeting recently to discuss the final phase of implementation: mandatory composting of all food scraps.
According to the Vermont Department of Conservation, nearly half of the trash generated in the state is recyclable or compostable. Most of the universal recycling law has been phased in, but next year all food scraps are banned from landfills and must be composted.
Agency of Natural Resources Department of Environmental Conservation Solid Waste Management Program Materials Management Section Chief Josh Kelly explained that putting food waste in the landfill prevents aerobic activity and promotes it turning into the greenhouse gas methane.  “That methane is over 25 times more damaging than carbon dioxide and we estimate if we composed all of Vermont’s food waste it’d be the same as taking about 7,000 cars off the road each year.”

Kelly said the state is trying to make sure Vermonters know how to compost at home or know what drop off services will accept. For example, people who compost at home do not need to include meat and bones. Those items according to Kelly can be put in the trash. Some curbside services are also beginning to pick up food scraps. But Kelly acknowledges 100 percent elimination of food scraps from the waste stream is unlikely.  “The best estimate is a 60 percent separation of food waste.”

Vermont Commissioner of Fish and Wildlife Louis Porter says food waste diversion will have a positive impact on the state’s wildlife and conservation efforts.  “The nutrients in that food will then get incorporated back into the ground and will be available for wildlife and wild creatures and also for our own food production.”

While some wildlife conflicts – such as encounters with bears – could occur with increased composting Porter believes that can be addressed.  “You can compost in ways that very much minimize that risk.”

The bulk of the meeting was dedicated to answering questions. One person asked Kelly if composting would add to methane emissions.  “Composting when it’s done the right way produces carbon dioxide not methane. Anaerobic digestion does create methane but they actually capture the methane.”

Commissioner Porter added that part of the goal is to develop anaerobic digesters that use food scraps to produce power.
Kelly was asked if food waste would have to be separated by type.  “If you bring it to a dropoff or you get curbside hauler all your food waste can go together, coffee grounds, eggshells, spoiled food, meat, bones, fat, spoiled grease all of it can go in. If its food you can compost it.”

One person criticized the agency for a lack of education on how to actually compost.  “I haven’t seen anything or heard from you about how I can do it privately, how I can do the composting.”
Kelly said there have been educational efforts and suggested he reach out to the local Solid Waste District for information.

According to its 2019 status report, 12 certified food scrap processing facilities operate year-round in Vermont. It also notes that “rescued food donations” nearly tripled between 2014 and 2017 at the VT Foodbank.
A goal of the universal recycling law’s composting mandate is to reduce the amount of wasted food.  The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources cites data showing the average American family spends an estimated $1,500 a year on food they have bought and don’t use.

Audio from the universal recycling meeting is courtesy of the Agency of Natural Resources webstream.