Businesses prep for new composting law
My biggest piece of advice to people just getting started with this is to not leave the totes too close to the building in the summertime. And to make sure to keep them secure from the critters.
— David Merrill, EastView
ADDISON COUNTY — On July 1, 2020, everyone in Vermont will be required to keep their food scraps out of the trash.
The ban is the latest phase of the state’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) to be implemented — the same law that in years past banned recyclables and yard scraps from landfills.
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) defines “food scraps” as “parts of food items that are typically discarded rather than eaten: peels, rinds, cores, eggshells, seeds, pits, bones, coffee grounds (and filters), loose-leaf tea, and fats/oils/grease,” as well as, “food that was eaten but not finished — ‘plate scraps’ or leftovers that went bad.”
Vermont landfills receive 77,000 tons of food scraps a year. Composting them instead of throwing them away could drastically reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions — by the rough equivalent of driving 115 million miles.
There are other good reasons for keeping food waste out of landfills, according to the DEC:
• Food scraps contain valuable nutrients that are good for soil, and when composted can be used in gardens and on farms.
• Generating less trash conserves landfill space.
• Garbage without food scraps is less smelly.
Food scraps and yard debris account for less than 25% of the waste generated by the typical Vermont family, so for households, complying with the new solid waste law may be as simple as setting up a composting system or making arrangements with local haulers, which will be required to offer food scrap collection.
But for businesses, the process of diverting food waste might be more challenging.
“The switch can be daunting,” said Emma Stuhl, an environmental analyst with the DEC, in an email.
“But,” she added, “it’s pretty simple to implement.”
It’s a statement Stuhl can make with confidence because Vermont’s largest generators of food scraps already made the transition — years ago.
According to the DEC website, elimination of food scraps from the waste stream has been implemented gradually over the past six years:
On July 1, 2014, the ban went into effect for the largest generators — those that produce at least 104 tons of food scraps per year (two tons per week, or the equivalent waste produced by roughly 1,143 restaurant or cafeteria meals per day).
During the ensuing three years, the threshold was reduced to 52 tons per year, then 26, then 18.
The Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMC) lists on its website more than 50 county businesses that have already made the transition, including Basin Harbor Club in Ferrisburgh and Mary’s at Baldwin Creek in Bristol.
In Middlebury, the EastView retirement community has been diverting food scraps since the day it opened in 2012, said David Merrill, director of dining services.
EastView is home to 120 residents and employs 100 people.
A lot of meals get eaten there.
“We keep five-gallon daily compost buckets in our main kitchen, and smaller one-gallon buckets in our satellite kitchens,” Merrill explained.
A couple of times a day the smaller buckets are transferred to the larger ones, and the larger ones are emptied into one of five 96-gallon rolling totes provided by EastView’s contracted hauler, Casella Waste Systems.
The ACSWMD provides EastView and other businesses with free compostable tote liners — and elastic bands to hold them in place.
EastView residents who have their own kitchens also bring food scraps to these totes.
Once a week, Casella hauls away the food scraps and delivers them to Vermont Natural Ag Products, the Middlebury manufacturer of Moo Doo compost products.
At night, EastView runs all the kitchen compost buckets through its commercial dishwashers and starts fresh again the next morning.
“My biggest piece of advice to people just getting started with this is to not leave the totes too close to the building in the summertime,” Merrill said. “And to make sure to keep them secure from the critters.”
DEC offers a wealth of information on that and other issues in its “Compost With Confidence” guide, which can be found online at tinyurl.com/r3d7cjt.
DO IT YOURSELF
Smaller businesses that generate less food waste have a few additional options that may not be workable for their larger counterparts, like composting or digesting onsite.
ACSWMD sells special critter-proof compost bins and Green Cone solar digesters that can break down organic waste to be used in the garden. The district also offers free composting workshops and provides helpful information on its website, addisoncountyrecycles.org.
Closing the loop on the Farm-to-Plate concept, some county restaurants, like The Halfway House in Shoreham, practice “scraps to farm.”
Kitchen staff at the beloved diner keep food waste in a five-gallon bucket, said Jessica Rochon, an employee there. Every few days, Bridport farmer Phil Wagner of Wagner Ranch comes by to pick up the scraps, which he feeds to his pigs.
NOT ALWAYS EASY
Not every business that generates food waste can do so in the well-organized and highly regulated environment of a commercial kitchen, however.
The Independent spoke with the owner of a county campground, who said their business will face significant hurdles in complying with the upcoming law.
As any outdoor enthusiast knows, food and food waste in campgrounds and state parks must be managed with great care and scrutiny.
Campers may view food-waste management through an individual or family lens, but from a campsite operator’s perspective, those campers’ actions add up very quickly, especially for operations that have dozens or even hundreds of sites.
Ensuring that every guest complies with recycling and trash laws can pose a significant challenge.
The county campground owner cited previous issues with mixing trash and recyclables and worried that creating a separate stream for food scraps would only make things worse.
HERE TO HELP
Any county business owner who has concerns about making the transition should contact the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, said ACSWMD’s Public Outreach Coordinator Jessie-Ruth Corkins, who confirmed that she and her colleagues plan to work with the county campground owner and anyone else with specific challenges.
Though Corkins acknowledged that some businesses will find the transition more difficult than others, she didn’t anticipate that state or county officials would grant any exemptions.
In the meantime, ACSWMD and DEC will continue the business outreach they have been conducting for years, she said.
More broadly the goal is to effect a change in the culture, said ACSWMD’s AmeriCorps member Ollie Culturara. Once the transition is made throughout the county, diverting food scraps will start to feel “normal” and “habitual.”
“Then people will feel like this was a no-brainer,” Culturara said.
For more information about Vermont’s Universal Recycling law, visit tinyurl.com/rzj3qvz.
For local information, visit the ACSWMD at tinyurl.com/upzvm2e, and click on the Food Scraps and Composting tab.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected]
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