Come July 1, food scraps will no longer be allowed in the trash, meaning Vermonters will have to find some way of managing that waste. One of the easiest ways to keep food scraps out of the trash is to compost it.
“My parents composted before I was born, so it was just part of life,” said Rebecca Mattis, who lives in a small, tight neighborhood just off Pearl Street in Rutland City.
Mattis grew up in northern New Jersey, then in northern California. She’s lived locally for several years now. Her mother, when they lived in New Jersey, kept two large gardens, hence all the composting. Mattis said she keeps a bucket inside the house for food scraps, then once a day or so empties it into one of several composting bins she keeps. The one in her garage is a high-end model, complete with insulation, that’s easy to turn. Another one out back is essentially a barrel that’s a little more difficult to rotate, then farther out back are the bins, which don’t spin at all.
“Because we do so much composting, we spend so much less on trash,” she said. “We take eight bags of trash every year to the transfer station, so we save a ton of money by composting.’
Her neighbors save, too. The ones who don’t compost spread the wealth to those who do.
“It’s cool our neighbors give us their compost, they just bring it by in a bag, we get a bag hanging on our door of their scraps, it works great,” said Mattis. “We have a use for it, we appreciate the contribution and they appreciate not having smelly garbage. It works for everyone.”
She said her house was built on poor soil, and since she likes to garden, she takes all the compost material she can get.
While composting is easy and simple, there’s a benefit to learning to do it well.
“I must say that despite always having composted in my life, I did discover that I wasn’t necessarily doing it right,” said Mattis. “I took a composting workshop at the (Rutland) Free Library a few years ago, and I learned a lot. I learned I wasn’t adding nearly enough carbon as I should have been, because I wasn’t necessarily bothered by smelly compost.”
If your compost has a strong odor, it means the process isn’t going quite right, she said. The solution is to add carbon in the form of dry plant matter such as grass clippings, leaves and plant stalks.
“Once I learned that, it made a huge difference,” Mattis said.
Another issue, easily solved, was pests, namely rats.
“We did have a few rats here a few years ago, and it wasn’t just us, it was other houses in the immediate vicinity, we all had brush piles, so it was kind of a local infestation,” she said. “We all worked together to get rid of the rat habitat. We lined the underneath of our compost bins with hardware cloth, and that prevented the rats from getting inside. Once we did that, no more rat problem.”
People completely new to composting have several places they can go for information. Among them, for those in the Rutland area, is the Rutland County Solid Waste District. Carl Diethelm is outreach coordinator for the organization and plans to ramp up an awareness campaign about the new law.
“We’re doing a series of workshops in every town in our county this spring,” he said. “We don’t have a schedule yet. It will be in April, May or June, depending on which town, and we’ll definitely send out the schedule through as many advertising outlets as possible. So that should be nailed down by the end of this month.”
Diethelm said there are techniques people can learn to cut down on the amount of food scrap waste they produce to begin with, and while composting is the easiest way to manage what does get wasted, it’s not the only one. He said people who are heavily into composting may take the scraps, as will people with livestock, such as chickens and pigs, to feed.
“The other option is to drop off food scraps at any transfer station in Vermont — they all accept food scraps for composting separately from the trash,” he said. “A lot of them are factored in with property taxes, so there’s no extra cost for most of them. We operate the Gleason Road Transfer Station, we do have a slight extra cost for folks, it’s a dollar per (2-gallon) container.”
He said it’s unlikely anyone will check individual trash bags to ensure compliance.
“The main thing is education,” he said. “We’re trying to let people know the options and why it’s important to do it. As for enforcement, the Agency of Natural Resources does have the authority to fine transfer stations or haulers that are bringing in large amounts of food scraps and putting it in the trash.”
Diethelm created a video tutorial for managing food scraps which he’s posted to YouTube, bit.ly/0212compost, and will have aired on PEG-TV. The Agency of Natural Resources also has an online guide, bit.ly/0212ANR.
At least one lawmaker said it wouldn’t hurt to wait another year to implement the food scrap rule. Rep. James Harrison, R-Chittenden, introduced H.561 to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife in January.
He said in a Wednesday interview he believes composting is a good thing and food scraps should be kept from the trash, but that it also wouldn’t hurt to give it another year. Harrison said the state’s infrastructure for managing this sort of waste isn’t quite up to snuff yet, though steps are being taken.
Harrison said he’s not sure if the bill will get far in the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife, as that committee is extremely busy working on updating Act 250, Vermont’s signature land-use law.