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Vt. Restaurants Compost Table Scraps to Help Environment



The Bennington Banner
Sunday, June 10, 2018

Bennington, Vt. — Keeping food scraps out of landfills?

It’s good business practice.

“Places like this produce so much coffee grounds and little food scraps and stuff like that — it’s kind of not sensible to not compost, at this point,” said Caley Martin, manager of South Street Cafe at 105 South St.

Dozens of Bennington, Vt., businesses have been consistently composting their food scraps, in advance of a requirement built into Vermont’s universal recycling law, Act 148.

Starting July 1, 2020, all food scraps will be banned from Vermont’s sole landfill in Coventry, under the universal recycling law, passed unanimously in 2012.

The law represents the most significant change to Vermont’s solid waste system in recent history.

For South Street Cafe, composting is a longstanding practice. The establishment has been composting for about 10 years, Martin said.

“The majority of waste that we produce is compost, so that’s basically the reason it makes sense for us,” Martin said.

Composting takes a bit more time than just throwing organic material away, he said.

The South Street Cafe composts through TAM Waste Management Inc.

Food scraps are separated from other trash and mixed with sawdust, which adds nitrogen. Nitrogen is an element required for composting.

“It’s a little bit more time,” Martin said. “It’s a little bit more messy.”

But it doesn’t really affect productivity.

“It works out just fine,” he said.

Establishments have to pay for food scraps to be taken for composting, but they’re also reducing trash-hauling costs, said Anne Bijur, environmental analyst with the waste management and prevention division of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

“The other benefit is — their trash won’t stink,” she said. “By keeping all the organic things separated, they might not have to have their trash picked up as often, either.”

Composting has positive climate change impacts, as organic matter put into a landfill results in anaerobic digestion, which produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The universal recycling law implemented phased-in bans on sending food scraps to landfills, starting in 2014, with larger food scrap generators and phasing in smaller generators over the years.

This requirement applies to generators of food scraps if they are located within 20 road miles of a composting facility that willingly accepts food scraps. This phased-in approach was designed to create demand for food scrap collection and support investments in new food scrap collection infrastructure.

“It’s a good direction to go,” said Matt Proft, organics coordinator for TAM Waste Management of Shaftsbury, of composting. “Because you can take something that would be lost forever, once it’s in a landfill, and make a quality compost out of it.”

Establishments worry about increased costs for things like composting, although composting can provide some offset for trash costs.

“(And) it’s change — no one likes change,” Proft said.

But some businesses change their minds once they start separating food scraps for composting.

“Some businesses start it, and they realize it wasn’t that hard,” he said. “Other businesses go in reluctant, and they stay reluctant. But they do it anyway.” He said TAM has approximately 50 customers in the Bennington area.

In the first few years of the landfill ban, Vermont food banks also saw a doubling of their donations of fresh food, Bijur said.

“As restaurants are becoming more aware of food waste, they’re realizing, ‘We shouldn’t be throwing out all this (food),” she said. ” ‘We should be finding someone who can use it.’ ”

It’s estimated that food waste accounts for more than 30 percent of the United States’ food supply.

Experts also have projected that reducing food losses by just 15 percent would provide enough food for more than 25 million Americans every year, helping to reduce incidences of food insecurity for millions, according to information from the DEC.

Bringing You Vermont staff also previously composted on their own. Now, they compost through TAM.

Before TAM, composting could be daunting.

“If you’ve ever been in the kitchen of a restaurant, it’s very, very busy,” said Ryan Hassett, owner of Bringing You Vermont and Bennington Pizza House, both of which compost.

Separating food for composting — “it’s logistically a nightmare,” he said.

But with the way TAM handles food for composting, it’s much easier — food can simply be scraped into a bucket.

“I’m looking at it, like, look at all this stuff that’s not going into a landfill,” Hassett said, “all this stuff that can be useful.”