Week one of Vermont’s compost initiative and plastic bag ban

Photo by Michelle Amidzich/The Forum

By Michelle Amidzich, News Editor

Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) went into effect on July 1, 2020. The law bans three significant materials from trash bins: “blue bin” recyclables, leaf and yard debris, and food scraps (organics, compostable kitchen wastes).

The Vermont Legislature unanimously passed Act 148 in 2012 after Vermont officials uncovered that almost 50 percent of waste in landfills could be recycled, composted, or reused. According to a 2018 Vermont Waste Characterization Study, Vermont’s trash consisted of 26 percent as special wastes, 24 percent organic material, 20 percent paper, 13 percent plastic, and 11 percent construction and demolition debris. Metal, glass, household hazardous waste, and electronics came in at three percent or lower.

The law’s goal is to cut landfill waste by almost half. The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) states that if everyone in Vermont composted and had the food waste collected, the state could achieve a 60 percent recycling rate. The composting goal is to support local food systems and feed hungry Vermonters. Additionally, before the law took effect, a University of Vermont study found 72 percent of Vermonters already composted in their homes or fed food scraps to livestock.

The law provides three options for residents and small businesses to manage food scraps: hire a hauler, drop off food scraps, or compost in the backyard. Officers did set aside almost a million dollars in grants for compost facilities to obtain equipment, expand curbside pick-up or drop-off, and build digesters that turn compost into energy. Many hauling companies collect food scraps because of the new law, so the ANR suggests that residents ask trash and recycling haulers if they collect food scraps before turning to the other options.

The law allows for discarded food scraps, such as peels, rinds, cores, eggshells, seeds, pits, coffee grounds, and filters, as well as “plate scraps” or leftovers that went bad into compost. This includes bread, pasta, soup, vegetables, sauces, meat, fish, and dairy. The law states that backyard composters can toss meat and bones into the trash to prevent wild animal visitors. Otherwise, residential haulers can throw them into their compost bins.

Photo by Michelle Amidzich/The Forum

The ANR suggests residents obtain a container to toss food waste. The container can be a repurposed large yogurt or coffee tub, an old bucket, or anything with a lid that can be purchased at a store. To curb fruit flies and other critters, the ANR suggests freezing food waste until “haul day.”

Another change to come out of the Universal Recycling Law is a statewide plastic bag ban. Grocery shoppers will have to bring a reusable bag or pay 10 cents per paper bag. The ban received pushback from the Vermont Retail & Grocers Association concerning that reusable bags could spread germs amidst COVID-19. The Association asked for a postponement of the plastic bag ban. Still, the Vermont Health Department okayed reusable bags and stuck with the original plastic bag ban date. The law also includes requiring plastic straws by request only, replacing plastic stirrers with a different material, and stores can no longer offer polystyrene as an option for egg cartons or trays.

State leaders ask for voluntarily compliance with the law; however, the ANR has enforcement authority and will prioritize the largest producers of food waste. The ANR will not sort through residential trash to check for compliance, but the agency will respond to complaints.

For more information about managing food scraps for residents and small business, click here. For more information about curbside/blue recycling bins, please click here.

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