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Few in Vt. Using Food Scrap Bins



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Vermont’s effort to move toward so-called universal recycling passed a major milestone last month, when transfer stations were required to begin accepting food scraps, grass clippings and other organic waste.

But even as the solid waste industry builds the infrastructure to handle organic waste, it remains to be seen whether Vermonters will make use of it before 2020, the year that Act 148, the universal recycling law, will require residents to separate out such waste.

In Hartford, those who go to the transfer station on Route 5 may notice a new bucket marked for food scraps at the scale house.

Bob Vahey, the town’s solid waste supervisor, said few people have taken advantage of the new service so far.

“Since July, if we’ve had five people, we’ve had a lot,” Vahey said Monday.

Vahey said that before the July 1 deadline passed, he was laying plans to identify a hauler who would take the scraps to a composting facility, and to institute a fee structure that would cover those costs.

But so few people have been taking food waste to the transfer station, he said, that he’s simply carting it down to a compost pile on site, and has no immediate plans to impose a fee on users.

“Until the population is required to do it full-blown in 2020, I don’t think we’re going to see a big change in it,” Vahey said.

Mary O’Brien, recycling coordinator with the Southern Windsor/Windham Counties Solid Waste Management District, said all five transfer stations in their network are complying with the requirement, but only one — Cavendish, which has been accepting food scraps for years — is seeing any sort of significant volume.

In Springfield, Weathersfield, Rockingham and Ludlow, the usage rates are comparable to what Vahey described in Hartford.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that people aren’t composting — they just might not be relying on transfer stations to do it for them.

O’Brien said many people separate those food scraps out of the waste stream to compost at home.

“We’re really pushing backyard composting,” she said. “We’ve had at least five workshops on backyard composting. In rural Vermont, that makes sense for a lot of people.”

Other towns have found they don’t have to change anything to comply with the law — yet.

In Strafford, Recycling Committee Chairman Michael Scanlon said the town has taken advantage of a one-year deadline delay for haulers.

The Legislature amended the law earlier this year after private solid waste haulers said they needed more time before they could handle what amounts to a whole new parallel waste stream.

Many towns operate their own transfer stations, but some, like Strafford, contract with a private hauler to come to town on a designated day and haul away the trash from a central collection point. Josh Kelly, an administrator with the Department of Environmental Conservation, said such operations are called “mobile solid waste operations,” defined by the fact that they haul all the trash away within 24 hours of the time it’s collected.

But next July, after the extension ends, all private haulers, whether they serve residential homes or large facilities, will have to offer organic waste collection alongside their regular services.

For the last few years, one of the concerns in the Upper Valley has been the lack of a large-scale organic composting facility, which meant that the theoretical cost to haul the food scraps was higher.

That now seems poised to change, said O’Brien and Kelly.

Grow Compost, a Waterbury-based firm, is opening a new composting facility in Hartland, on a property that was formerly permitted for a landfill.

O’Brien said that the new facility, which could open as early as this year, will bring costs down for haulers.

Kelly said that’s just one bright spot as the solid waste industry prepares for a tidal wave of segregated organic materials in coming years.

The Lamoille Regional Solid Waste District is also opening a new facility in the town of Johnson, he said, which would increase the number of composting facilities statewide to 10.

Kelly said that, overall, the state continues to see progress in consumer habits under the universal recycling law.

Municipal solid waste statewide is down 8.5 percent during the two-year period from 2014 to 2016, while the composting rate has increased by 3 percent, to 36 percent of the total waste stream.

Food scraps are a big part of that increase, Kelly said.

“Recently we looked at food scraps alone,” he said. “Just food scraps at our certified composting facilities is up 15 percent.”

Under the law, facilities that produce large amounts of organic waste — such as schools, grocery stores and restaurants — have already been required to begin separating that waste for composting.

In July of 2020, the last major deadline in the timeline of the universal recycling law, all food scraps will be banned from Vermont landfills statewide.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.