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Food Scraps Banned from Trash

Compost pile. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel
The final phase of Vermont’s 2012 Universal Recycling Law went into effect on July 1, and now all food scraps are banned from the trash. Properly sorted food scraps are to be composted, either on site or elsewhere.

The food scrap prohibition has been phased in since 2014, when it applied to institutions generating more than two tons per week of food scraps. Each year through 2017, it applied to smaller and smaller amounts of food waste. The last previous milestone was July 1, 2017, when it encompassed generators of more than 18 tons/year, roughly 700 pounds per week. Now it applies to everyone, including households.

The Universal Recycling Law was intended, in part, to extend the useful life of Vermont’s one permitted landfill, in Coventry, by reducing how much is sent to the landfill. It also targets other benefits.

Food scraps in landfills, for example, generate methane, which is roughly 80 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over the short term. While some of the methane can be captured and used to generate electricity, as Washington Electric Co-op does at Coventry, a significant amount leaks into the atmosphere, even at landfills actively capturing methane. The Environmental Protection Agency says landfills constitute the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S. from human-related sources.

Food scraps that are composted generate — compost! For those who have the space, backyard composting can be done in homemade compost bins or purchased ones — and the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District website (cvswmd.org) has both plans for making your own and a page for ordering commercial compost equipment at a discount.

All transfer stations are now accepting food scraps, as are other places, including Vermont Compost and Dog River Farm in Montpelier, and Perfect Circle Farm in Berlin. Both Vermont Compost and Earthgirl Composting offer residential curbside compost pickup. Just remember to keep everything that’s not food scraps out of the compost — plastic bags and even the little plastic stickers on fruits and vegetables cause problems for composters.

More information, including tips on composting in bear country, is available at cvswmd.org and dec.vermont.gov.