Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Universal Recycling and Composting in Vermont

Mandates Include Businesses

By Michele Morris

Way back in 2012, the Vermont legislature unanimously passed what is widely known as the Universal Recycling and Composting Law, Act 148. How time flies. On July 1 this year, Act 148 mandates started kicking in. “But I thought we were already recycling!” many of you are saying. Well you’re right — sort of.

Some parts of Vermont, including Chittenden County, have had broad mandatory recycling requirements for residents AND businesses for years, even decades. Other areas of the Green Mountain State have not been measuring up, so the Legislature decided it was time to raise the bar for everyone by mandating recycling across the state, and including a new landfill ban on food leftovers.

Here’s an overview of what’s here, what’s coming, and what you need to do to get on board with the new landfill ban.

In solid-waste-speak, food scraps and food manufacturing or processing byproducts and residuals are all known as “organics.” Restaurants, hospitals, hotels, prisons and schools generate tons of organic waste. But it also includes residuals and byproducts from the creation of foodstuffs ranging from infant formula and baby food to ice cream, cookies, coffee and even beer and cider.

When buried in a landfill, organics decompose very, very slowly. As they do break down, they generate methane, a greenhouse gas that’s at least 21 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Though Vermont’s only operating landfill is capturing methane to generate electricity, studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others show that some of that gas still escapes and is a major contributor to climate change.

Besides that, consider the vast quantities of resources invested in the production of those organics. The National Restaurant Association reports that 25% of all U.S. freshwater use and 4% of total U.S. oil consumption goes toward producing and transporting food that never gets eaten. Vermont has decided that after reducing the food waste that’s generated in the first place, we should keep what’s left out of the landfill. Here’s the recommended hierarchy for “closing the loop” on all of those resources and energy:

  • Feed your neighbors by donating quality leftover food to food banks.
  • Donate or sell scraps and residuals to farmers for animal food (follow Department of Agriculture guidelines for food fed to swine).
  • Create soil-enriching compost in your backyard or send scraps and residuals to a commercial composting facility or anaerobic digester.

Whatever method you choose, Act 148 requires you to keep organics out of the landfill. That landfill ban phases in on this schedule, depending on how much organic leftovers you generate:

  • July 1, 2014: 104 tons/year, or about 12 68-gallon carts per week.
  • July 1, 2015: 52 tons/year, about 6 carts per week.
  • July 1, 2016: 26 tons/year, about 3 carts per week.
  • July 1, 2017: 18 tons/year. Businesses that pick up trash and recycling must offer curbside food scrap pickup by this date.
  • July 1, 2020: all food scraps are banned from landfill-bound trash – including those generated by households.

As for those recyclable cans, bottles, paper and plastic containers? Statewide requirements kick in July 1, 2015. But remember, your local area may have already set a higher bar for recycling and landfill-banned material. Contact your town to find out what’s required in your neck of the Green Mountains.

Michele Morris is the Business Outreach Coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District.

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