State wants food scraps out of trash
New law took effect Wednesday; focus is on education, compliance
A ban on plastic shopping bags in Vermont may have garnered more attention, but the state's ban on tossing food scraps out with the garbage also took effect on Wednesday, the start of the new fiscal year.
Vermont now requires separate disposal of food wastes from businesses, multi-family housing facilities and single residences, with the overall goal of reducing the amount of those wastes — often up to a quarter of solid waste volume sent to landfills.
The new composting and single-use plastics regulations are the most recent waste-reduction phases being rolled out under Act 148, the state's Universal Recycling Law, which took effect in 2012.
Residents do not have to produce compost from their food scraps, which requires a composting container, but everyone is required to save food scraps in a smaller container for regular collection by a family's refuse hauler or to be dumped by residents into containers at the town's transfer station.
Those scrap materials include rinds, cores, eggshells, seeds, pits, bones, coffee grounds and filters; loose-leaf tea and paper tea bags; and fats, oils and grease. Also included, according to guidelines posted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, are plate scraps, or leftovers that are being discarded, as well as bread, pasta, soup, veggies, fruit, sauces, meat, dairy, sweets, or any food-related scraps.
Michael Batcher, regional planner and Solid Waste Program manager with the Bennington County Regional Commission, that that, what might seem to some residents as difficult, "is just not that hard, especially when you are talking about a small household of a few people."
Batcher said one of the typical objections he's heard to saving food scraps separately is that "it will smell and attract animals."
He usually counters that if that organic material is left in the trash, it still will smell and could attract wild or domestic animals.
Under the law, waste haulers are required to provide food scrap collection for their non-residential customers, including businesses, schools and institutions, and for apartment facilities with four or more units, unless another hauler is willing to provide that service.
If they don't take their own trash to the transfer station, residents with homes or in single residences should check with their hauler and/or the Bennington County Solid Waste Alliance about options for complying with the food scrap provision.
Batcher, who works with the 13-town solid waste alliance, said that, "for
transport to a transfer station, we recommend a three- or five-gallon pail with a lid that can be secured. The one caution is that food scraps get heavy, so lifting five gallons of food scraps is not an easy chore."
He said waste haulers generally provide containers for non-residential customers to store food scraps between pickups. Those are dumped at larger-scale composting facilities, such as at the Bennington Transfer Station on Houghton Lane.
Other options also exist for donating edible food or scraps that might be of use to a local farmer.
For those residents who want to purchase a container and create their own compost, the waste alliance is preparing to distribute the containers it took orders for in the spring and is considering making more available in the future. Those deliveries were delayed by the coronavirus epidemic, Batcher said.
The models shown in a flyer were described as 28 by 28 inches and 32 inches high, with a locking lid, and capable of handling a household of up to five people. It could turn food wastes and yard clippings into fertilizer for gardens, flower gardens or trees.
Two smaller containers for storing food scraps prior to collection or disposal also were offered by the alliance.
"At this point, I am holding off on new sales until we see what we have left, as we sold a number of the items listed. So nothing is for sale now as we are finishing up our current sale," Batcher said Wednesday, adding, "We are looking into other options as well."
As with other waste reduction programs, the emphasis will be on outreach, education and appeals for cooperation, Batcher said, especially at the residential level.
According to a post from the state Agency of Natural Resources, the ANR "prioritizes outreach and compliance efforts on the largest producers of food waste and on complaints we receive ANR has consistently prioritized education and outreach on the food waste ban and has worked to ensure options exist for food scrap collection and drop-off."
According to the guidelines, ANR also "has supported grant funding for low-cost/subsidized residential composting bins as a way to encourage cost savings through home composting. ANR does not sort through residential trash bags looking for recyclables or food."
The alliance provides more detail about solid waste initiatives in its new five-year solid waste management plan, which is now being reviewed for comment by the DEC.
The document covers plans to reduce hazardous household waste, enhance recycling programs and in general reduce the volume of waste sent to landfills.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien
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