Vermont's Universal Recycling Law

"An act relating to establishing the universal recycling of solid waste."

In 2012, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which effectively bans disposal of three major types of waste materials commonly found in Vermonters' trash bins over the course of six years.  In 2018, the amended the law (S.285).  See below for more information on the laws.

  • "blue bin" recyclables BY JULY 2015recycling symbol;
  • leaf and yard debris collected April 1 - December 15; clean wood BY JULY 2016organics recycling symbol;
  • Transfer stations must collect food scraps beginning JULY 2017 organics recycling symbol;
  • Food waste generators generating over 18 tons of food waste must divert their waste if there is a facility within 20 miles beginning July 1, 2017.  How much is 18 tons?  A nifty way to remember:
    If you generate more than Pi  (3.14)  toters of food scraps each week, you are required to separate and manage them;
  • All Vermonters must keep food scraps out of the landfill.  This means residents regardless of how much is generated or how far away a processing facility; businesses must divert if there is a facility within 20 miles by 2020 - BY JULY 2020organics recycling symbol

The law contains other provisions designed to make it easier and more convenient for Vermont residents and businesses to meet each landfill (or disposal) ban by the established dates. To learn more about these provisions, skip below to the Main Features section.

Why the Universal Recycling Law Was Passed Unanimously

More than half of what Vermonters throw away can be diverted from landfills

Out of all the waste Vermont generates annually, only about 35% gets sent somewhere other than a landfill to be recycled, composted, or reused. That's on par with the national average recycling rate of 35% (U.S. EPA), and when the Universal Recycling law was passed, it hadn't changed for more than 10 years. Why so low? The chart below shows what materials the average Vermonter puts in the trash everyday (by weight). If everyone recycled or composted, Vermont could cut its landfill waste by more than half.Pie chart of average Vermonter's daily trash - Paper is 22% - Food, organics 28% - Plastic 11% - Metal 4% - Glass 2% - Other 33%

Meaningful alternatives exist for uneaten food and food scraps

When food scraps end up in landfills, they release powerful methane gas that contribute to climate change. What's the use of landfilling uneaten food when we can feed our neighbors, feed animals to produce local eggs and meat, or create rich soil and renewable energy products instead? The Universal Recycling Law outlines how Vermont businesses and residents should prioritize what happens to food waste to achieve greater good:

 Most to Least Preferred Food Recovery Hierarchy - Source Reduction, Food for People, Food for Animals, Composting and Anaerobic Digestion

Technical Aspects: how the law works, policy guidance... or "How the Law Works"

Who Must Comply and When

By Date

View the Universal Recycling Timeline Summary to see all the major compliance dates chronologically ordered.

By Audience Type

Drop-off Centers and Transfer Stations: Must offer drop-off or tipping floor for recycling and food scrap collection over time
Residents: Must recycle by 2015; must compost leaf & yard debris by 2016 (April 1 - December 15); must keep food scraps out of trash by 2020.
Businesses and Institutions: Same recycling and leaf & yard debris dates as residents. All businesses divert food scraps by 2020, with some larger businesses phasing-in earlier depending on food waste generated each week.

Main Features of the Law

Parallel Collection: Drop-off centers that offer trash collection services are required to offer recycling and food scrap collection services in advance of each landfill ban going into effect. For example, facilities must offer food scrap collection by 2017, so that there is time for residents and businesses to find a preferred way to manage their food scraps by 2020.

Unit-Based Pricing or "Pay-As-You-Throw": All Vermont towns are required to pass ordinances that require waste haulers and transfer stations to bundle the costs of recycling and trash collection into one fee for residential customers only. This mechanism levels the playing field for residents across the State, so households do not have to make decisions about whether or not to recycle based on their wallets.

Public Space Recycling: Any trash container in a public space needs to be accompanied by a recycling receptacle as of July 2015, making recycling more convenient in more locations. Public spaces include city streets, parks, municipal offices, schools, and more; bathrooms are exempt.

Phased-In Food Scrap Ban: Businesses and institutions that produce large amounts of food waste--such as supermarkets, college campuses, and restaurants--are required to comply with the landfill ban on food scraps earlier than residents, if they are located within 20 road miles of a composting facility that willingly accepts food scraps. This phased-in approach is designed to create demand for food scrap collection, and support investments in new food scrap collection infrastructure.

Key Documents

Universal Recycling, As Enacted Into Law (Act No. 148, formerly H.485)
Law Highlights: A Summary Sheet

Frequently Asked Questions

The top three most frequently asked questions received by Dept. of Environmental Conservation staff:

  • How is the law going to be enforced?
  • Can I get recycling bins or composting bins for free?
  • I rent an apartment or house. Does my landlord have to provide recycling?


Communication & outreach tools

Go to the Universal Recycling Downloads page for posters, fact sheets, web ads, and signage for recycling, compost, and trash containers.

Recycling symbol.Food scraps symbolLandfill symbolFood donation symbolFood for animals symbol