Vt. May Strike Rule Requiring Compost Pickup

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Montpelier — Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation is recommending the Legislature change the state’s recycling laws so that commercial haulers will not have to pick up compost from all households when new rules take effect in 2020.

But they’re recommending that the ban on putting food scraps in the trash be left intact.

The Legislature passed the Universal Recycling Law in 2012, banning the disposal of recyclables including mixed paper — newspapers, magazines, paper bags, white and colored paper and mail — into landfills starting in 2015.

Food scraps will be banned from trash starting in 2020.

Composting increased 9 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 40 percent of organic waste generated being composted, said Cathy Jamieson, head of the state’s solid waste management division, during a presentation on a Vermont solid waste report to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.

The amount of food donated to the Vermont Foodbank also has tripled since 2014.

As the result of a survey conducted last year with haulers and solid waste district managers, the DEC is recommending that commercial haulers no longer be required to collect food scraps from single-family homes and residences with less than four units, Jamieson told the committee.

“The hauler stakeholders brought up that they’re not going to have the density to make this work well, it’s not going to be economically viable for them,” she said.

Haulers would still be required to collect compost from businesses and multi-unit apartments, unless they can demonstrate that another hauler is collecting food scraps in their pickup area.

“Those buildings, those commercial businesses are not likely to home compost, they’re not likely to want to take it to a drop-off location and so they need a service,” said Jamieson.

Last year, the Legislature pushed back the hauler pickup requirement from 2018 to 2020.

Rep. Kari Dolan, D-Waitsfield, said during the committee meeting that she felt rolling back the hauler requirement might be “a little premature” as the universal recycling laws haven’t been fully implemented.

Dolan advised against assuming that people in single-unit households would be able to compost their own food scraps at home. “A single unit could be a rental facility, a single unit could be in bear habitat country, a single unit could be just rural Vermont,” she said.

Jamieson said she understood Dolan’s concerns, adding that the state wants to ensure Vermonters have a “convenient option” for composting.

Vermont has over 100 transfer stations that accept food scrap drop-off, she said, noting that the Northeast Kingdom, which has a robust network of transfer stations, has seen a “dramatic increase” in the amount of food scraps dropped off in recent years.

Many Vermonters also compost at home — a University of Vermont survey last year found that 73 percent of those surveyed either compost at home or feed food waste to animals, Jamieson added.

Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, chairwoman of the committee, said in an interview that her committee would likely consider DEC’s proposed changes — including the change to the hauler requirement.

Waste management needs differ in the state’s urban and rural areas, so a “one size fits all” approach to compost collection does not necessarily make sense, she said. Sheldon added that businesses have cropped up offering separate home food waste collection services.

Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said that while his committee has not yet taken a position on the change to the hauler requirement, he felt it seems “like a reasonable approach.”

“They’re trying to balance out the burden on any particular hauler with the goal of getting the greatest level of participation (in composting),” he said.

The state has had mixed success in recent years in its broader efforts to reduce the amount of trash headed for landfills, according to the solid waste report.

While Vermonters produced 5 percent less trash in 2016 than the previous year, the state generated 11 percent more trash in 2017, said Jamieson.

Jamieson said that while it’s hard to point to any one factor causing that trend, the economic upturn may be partly responsible for that increase.

“When the economy is good,” she said, “people tend to buy more and unfortunately dispose of more than when the economy is bad.”