Recycling law takes aim at food scraps
MIDDLEBURY — Got compost?
The Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD) would like to help you with that, as the county continues to take steps in reducing, reusing and recycling as part of the phased-in rollout of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, Act 148.
By next summer, July 1, 2017, both trash haulers and garbage collection facilities will be required to offer food scrap collection to individual households. By 2020, all food waste will be banned from Vermont landfills. So for homeowners, haulersand towns alike, the next couple of years will bring lots changes in how they handle leftover potato peels and watermelon rinds.
“We’re not focused on policing residents’ apple cores,” said Josh Kelly, whose responsibilities at the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) include oversight of Act 148 implementation. “We’re focused on making sure people have options.”
Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, passed in 2012, changes the way Vermonters handle recyclables, leaf and yard debris, clean wood, and food scraps.
Food accounts for 28 percent of what the average Vermonter throws away annually, according to the ANR.
Act 148’s mandate for food scrap reduction started with the state’s largest commercial generators of food scraps and only now is beginning to get down to the residential level.
In 2014, food scrap generators of 104 tons per year were required to divert material to any certified facility within 20 miles. In 2015, diversion was required for those who generated 52 tons per year. By July 1 of this year, food scrap generators of 26 tons per year had to come on board. Next year, July 1, 2017, commercial generators of 18 tons per year must comply — that applies to almost any business that handles food waste as a business.
Vermont was not the first state to call for phased-in reductions on commercially generated food scraps, said Kelly; Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which have similar programs.
Where Vermont steps ahead of the pack is its call for no food scraps in landfills by 2020 — not just from businesses or hospitals or schools but from individual households. By mandating no food scraps in landfills, Vermont is calling on ordinary citizens to do their part in reducing the 34 million tons of food wasted nationwide each year.
LEADER IN RECYCLING
Fortunately, in Addison County there are a bounty of resources to help with this transition. And fortunately, the county’s solid waste management district is a well-established recycling leader.
“I think Addison County had the highest recycling rate in the state last year when we got their numbers back. They got a Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence, and it was in large part based on that high recycling rate. And, honestly, they provide services to not only their residents but the hauling community,” Kelly said.
In terms of food scraps, ACSWMD will begin strategizing this week at its annual board of directors retreat as to how towns and haulers can get best set up for the 2017 deadline to accept food scraps from individuals.
ACSWMD has been selling composting bins at cost for more than 14 years, said ACSWMD District Manager Teri Kuczynski. It also sells kitchen compost collectors for $5.
“They’re really helpful and they look nice on the counter or the floor, and then you can use it to carry your food scraps out to the compost bin in the backyard,” she said.
The district also has a compost demonstration area at the transfer station that includes a different style of compost bin that homeowners can build themselves.
The ACSWMD website, addisoncountyrecycles.org, also has an entire section devoted to composting, including links to other resources.
But the ACSWMD’s multifaceted approach to reducing food waste goes beyond just composting.
Two years ago, ACSWMD took part in an EPA-sponsored pilot program called “Food: Too Good to Waste.” The district brought together 30 volunteers from the community to look at different ways to reduce food waste entirely.
The pilot, said Kuczynski, was designed to “teach them ways of better shopping, not wasting food, how to prepare leftovers, how to arrange the refrigerator so the oldest foods are at the front — some basic things but we forget about these basic things.”
Experts estimate that Americans throw out about $1,350 worth of food annually.
For those who don’t want to compost, Kuczynski also stressed that the Middlebury transfer station already accepts food scraps. These get taken to Middlebury’s Vermont Natural Ag Products, maker of Moo Doo and other soil amendments, where they get composted by the professionals.
And statewide, food banks report a dramatic upsurge in food donations as businesses and organizations work together to get still-useable food to people who are hungry instead of just dumping it in the trash.
Animal feed is another avenue suggested by ANR.
“Chickens are becoming very popular and certain kinds of waste can be fed to chickens,” Kuczynski suggested.
ACSWMD has just brought on board a new outreach professional, Jaclyn Hochreiter, whose job will be to do recycling education and outreach with schools and other institutions, businesses and individuals. At present she is focusing on area businesses to make timely use of a grant ACSWMD already had in hand for that purpose.
Kuczynski encouraged Addison County residents with any kind of question about reducing food waste, including composting, to also contact ACSWMD Program Manager Don Maglienti.
Also important to Kuczynski is ordinary residents’ continuing commitment to turn more trash into “materials.”
“People are clearly hearing more in the news, about Act 148 and food diversion and composting. They’re concerned that they’re doing the right thing, which is great. And we’re here to help them do the right thing. We’re very encouraged by the current rate of recycling,” Kuczynski said.
A survey last spring showed that 96 percent of county residents recycle paper, plastics and metals. Seventy-two percent compost leaf and yard trimmings or let leaves stay on the lawn to decompose naturally. In terms of food waste, 50 percent compost at home, 3 percent use a garbage disposal, 2 percent set out for curbside collection and 1 percent bring to a composting location.
Compost bin sales are also up, said Kuczynski.
LANDFILL REDUCTION PLUS
Both Kelly and Kuczynski stressed the multiple benefits of keeping food scraps out of the trash. Some of that food can help feed people who are hungry. Some can go to animals. Some can be composted and be used as a soil amendment. Some can go into digesters to produce energy.
Both stress that food left to rot in landfills is a powerful contributor to global warming.
“Food waste in the trash is something that leads to methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas that is 20 times more damaging than carbon dioxide,” said Kelly. “And, roughly, for every five-gallon bucket of food waste you compost, you offset a gallon of gasoline in terms of emissions offset. It’s one of the easiest going green steps people can take.”
The phase-in from the July 2017 to July 2020 deadlines gives haulers time to figure out how to configure their trucks to now pick up four different kinds of materials: trash; paper, plastic, and metals recyclables; yard and leaf trimmings; and food scraps, said Kuczynski. And it gives ordinary people time to decide what approach works best at home.
Said Kelly, “The intent of that legislation with that three-year gap was the assumption that the infrastructure and the hauling could have some time to catch up and that people could, you know, honestly, talk with their neighbor about, ‘OK, I think it’s time I bought that backyard composter I’ll give it a shot.’”
Finally, Universal Recycling Law seeks to change the way we think about trash in general.
“There’s a reason we call them ‘materials’ and we’re starting to stop using the word ‘waste,’” said Kelly. “And it’s because — if you really want to get down to the essence of the Universal Recycling Law it’s to take the next step away from landfill mentality into a reuse, a recycling, a food donation, and a composting and anaerobic digesting world in which we take our materials and we put them … back into the system.
“It’s really just having our society — the human society — match the natural society, nature and its cycles. That’s what we’re working on.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].
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