It’s been just over a year since food scraps were banned from Vermont landfills, prompting a statewide composting spike.

The Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) was passed unanimously by the Vermont Legislature in 2012, then updated in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The law aimed to “reduce landfill waste, increase recycling, increase composting, and try to meet the state’s 50% recycling goal,” said Josh Kelly, materials management section manager of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

The recycling law really tightened up in 2020 when Rep. James Harrison, R-Chittenden, introduced the proposal to ban disposal of food waste in landfills, and Gov. Phil Scott signed it on July 1 of last year.

“I was out of work last spring. I was reading about that law, and so I started this business based on what I thought would be a residential need,” said Zach Cavacas, owner and operator of Music Mountain Compost, based in Stockbridge. The company offers bi-weekly residential and commercial compost pickup and Cavacas says it has diverted over 40 tons of food waste over the past year.

In its first year, Music Mountain Compost has grown from zero to more than 300 customers.

“The growth rate is incredible, and I’ve also been to over 70 towns. There’s a huge need for this,” Cavacas said.

“If you compost food scraps that Vermont landfills each year, it would be the same as taking over 9,000 cars off the road,” Kelly said.

The Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that the number of food scrap haulers has more than tripled, from 12 haulers in 2012, to 45 in 2021.

Vermont sales of supplies for backyard composters (compost bins, kitchen countertop collectors, food scrap buckets, etc.) rose from $7,132 to $19,681 in the past year, said Susan Alexander, manager of the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste District. In 2020 alone, the district took in 146 tons of food scraps for composting; that rose to 166 tons in the past six months.

The waste district established Lamoille Soil in Johnson as a composting operation, and business is booming.

“Since the Universal Recycling Law has gone into effect, it’s gone up. We’re really excited to see people being able to find a way to bring their food scraps to our six dropoff facilities,” Alexander said.

Alexander hopes eventually to see small hauling companies offer bundles or packages for food scraps, recycling and trash.

“At some point, we need to see the marketplace adjust pricing appropriately, and that the cost of managing your food scraps is actually less than the cost of landfill fees. This will really help more people be able to afford curbside collection service,” she said.

More composting, less landfill

The Vermont Compost Co. is piloting a project to haul food with donkeys to its farm in Montpelier.

“That’s a thing you can see a couple of days a week, these days, is three donkeys pulling a dozen green roll-around totes up the hill from the car, and up to the farm to feed the chickens,” said Carl Hammer, founder and owner of Vermont Compost, which has been in business since 1992.

When the food scraps arrive at the farm, they are blended with other ingredients and made available to a flock of laying hens. Eggs have been produced this way at Vermont Compost since 1998.

Hammer described these birds as “free leave,” since, should they choose, they can leave at their own discretion.

“But, they don’t know that ‘free leave’ could be another way of saying homeless. What the chicken really wants is to be welcomed to stay where she wants, where her friends are, and where there’s stuff to eat,” he said. By allowing the chickens to live safely on the farm, “they get a warm place to sleep at night and to lay their eggs,” while staying safe from foxes. In turn, they enhance the compost process with their excretions.

Though the Universal Recycling Law was enacted in 2012, it didn’t take major effect until 2014, Kelly explained.

“That’s when large generators of waste, those above 2 tons per week, are required to separate it if there was a facility within 20 miles. I often call it the ‘Field of Dreams’ model. If you build a baseball diamond in your cornfield, they will come,” Kelly said. Vermont set up its waste separation law “based on Connecticut’s policy mechanism,” he said.

In the old days, food was disposed of in trash bags that went into landfills, and one byproduct was methane — a gas that contributes to climate change.

Food scraps on their way to becoming compost at Vermont Compost in Montpelier. Courtesy photo.

But composting encourages aerobic bacteria, which release carbon dioxide and not methane.

Kelly explained that Vermont would send about 80,000 tons of food to landfills a year. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the switch to composting cuts greenhouse gas emissions so much, it would equate to 9,000 cars being removed from the road.

Cavacas said education is important in the drive toward composting.

“As more people get educated on composting, a lot of times they’ll try it themselves,” Cavacas said. At first, “they don’t want to compost in their backyard, or they don’t know how. I found myself that education has been the most important part, and telling people they can have someone pick it up or learn how to do it and make their own soil.”

Alexander, a big fan of composting, concedes that it’s not for everybody.

“There’s been significant effort and outreach, but there’s always going to be folks who are, you know, hesitant to do this, because change can be difficult. However, we’re really excited to see people finally being able to find their way to compost,” she said.

For more information about composting, click here.

See the original article at: