A year from now, Vermonters will need to find a new place for their peels: Food waste will be banned from disposal starting July 1, 2020, the final step in an eight-year plan toward sending less waste into landfills.

“Everyone, including businesses, homeowners and renters will be asked to keep food scraps out of their trash as part of the Universal Recycling Law,” said Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore in a press release. “This is an important step in moving us closer to zero-waste state, but we’ve got some work to do.”

Act 148, the Universal Recycling Law was passed in 2012, but the law was implemented with gradual banning of recyclables from the trash stream in 2015 and finally food scraps in 2020, but it's taken time and initiatives to draw Vermonters away from their traditional method of black plastic trash bags and an expanding landfill.

And experts say more remains to be done.

Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella Waste Systems of Rutland said one of the major challenges facing the initiative was developing the infrastructure needed for collection companies to haul out food waste from small, rural communities.

“Casella has vastly different densities and scale,” Fusco said. “In a lot of ways, we like to say compost is where recycling was 40 years ago. To make it economically sustainable will take some time.”

More technology, resources and sites would aid in the transition, which would prove challenging for homeowners, Fusco said, and more discussion and education on the subject before full implementation can be expected.

Fusco said studies have shown organic waste is about 40% of the waste trade, but options are still needed to convince people to start composting and teaching them how.

For example, Rutland County Solid Waste District Manager Jim O'Gorman said backyard composters don't generate enough heat to break down meat, bones, fish and compostable utensils, but larger-scale composters do.

Unfortunately, in Rutland County that means a drive to Middlebury or Brandon, unless residents want to give it to Casella for transport to a processing plant.

In the meantime, the district is fighting the good fight trying to spread the word about everything from apple cores to orange rinds, egg shells and coffee grounds.

“Our outreach coordinator going to all the schools,” O'Gorman said. “You can go out and try to educate them, but whether they think it's worth it is another matter. ... (Some)towns have been recalcitrant because they think it's unnecessary.”

Ideally, an entrepreneur would start a new composting facility in Rutland, but O'Gorman said he has yet to hear of anyone interested.

Subsidizing the composting would make things easier, as would an improvement in the recycling markets. Currently — mainly because of changes in how much recyclable material China will accept — it's costing more to recycle than to throw something into a landfill. That's pushing people away from renewable and organic initiatives rather than toward it.

More domestic recycling markets, buying recycled goods, and providing educational opportunities surrounding compost and recycling — such as teaching which plastics are recyclable and why single-use plastic bags aren't — can lead to better retention and implementation of community programs, said Josh Kelly, materials management section chief for the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.

“When we have looked at Vermont's waste historically, food waste is the most significant chunk of that (waste),” Kelly said. “That creates greenhouse gases.”

There are successes, though. The Northwest Solid Waste District, serving the counties of Franklin and Grand Isle, has enjoyed almost 10 years of steady success with the implementation of five transfer station drop-off sites, processing commercial and institutional customers, all of the schools in their district and businesses such Price Chopper and Dunkin' Donuts, too, said district Executive Director John Leddy.

Not including the curbside pickups, Leddy said, his district processed 300 tons of compost during the 2018 fiscal year, and a total of 900 tons of waste overall.

“We held around 13 backyard compost workshops that had over 100 participants total,” Leddy said.

Leddy said the key to successful program were multiple solutions: a combination of different drop-off points, do-it-yourself composting equipment and knowledge, and curbside collection that costs the residents $10 a month with help from a state grant.

“We have over 100 households participating in that,” Leddy said. “Our next goal is to expand the number of drop-off sites, making those convenient ... small-scale community compost systems.”

There will be an open meeting from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday in the Dewey Building at 1 National Life Drive in Montpelier, where John Kelly and Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter will teach residents about composting their food waste responsibly, their local options and resources and keeping animals out, while also answering questions from the public.

“Vermonters currently throw away approximately 77,000 tons of food and food waste each year,” Moore said. “If every Vermonter composted their food waste, it would be the same as taking over 7,000 vehicles off the road each year. As we move closer to the 2020 deadline, people have a lot of questions about composting. This meeting is a great time for Vermonters to voice their questions, ideas and concerns.”

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(1) comment

Stephen Wells

Years ago i can remember my grandfather burning everything in a 50 gallon barrel in the back yard paper, garbage ,etc. As I remember there were a few of them in my neighborhood.When the barrel got full they just disposed of it.

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