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Vt. sees boom in food scrap haulers from last year’s compost law

Published: Jul. 1, 2021 at 8:15 AM EDT
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STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. (WCAX) - It’s officially been a year since Vermont mandated composting of food scraps. To measure success, they’ve been looking through the lens of small businesses, and they’ve found a lot of Vermonters are hopping on the food scrap hauling bandwagon.

“My wife, I remember when I started it, she said, ‘it might be a good part-time thing.’ And I said, ‘I think it might be a little more than that,’” recalled Zach Cavacas, the owner of Music Mountain Compost.

Now his Stockbridge-based business is anything but a side gig. “It has exceeded my expectations. I mean, I have a little over 300 customers, and that’s just by myself trying to grind it out and make a bigger business out of it,” said Cavacas.

For Cavacas, this didn’t start out as just a passion project. He lost his job due to COVID-19, saw the compost law coming up, and decided to take a chance with a trailer and his truck. “It kind of kicked off and kind of blew up pretty quickly because of the law primarily,” said Cavacas.

He serves all over Vermont -- Rutland to Barre, Chelsea to Springfield -- working four out of seven days a week.

Although Cavacas has found success making lemonade out of lemons, he isn’t the only one. “The July 1st food waste ban created a residential market,” said Josh Kelly with the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Before July of 2020, there were about 12 small food scrap haulers in Vermont, but since the law has gone into effect, the number has quadrupled to nearly 50. The state estimates about 70% of Vermont towns now have some access to residential food scrap haulers.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District reports an 89% increase in food scrap collection since the ban went into effect. There is still a lot of backyard and drop-off composting, but the ban has ushered in curbside residential collection.

Kelly says say all of these forms have played a role in the compost boom. “The facilities we have talked to -- from transfer stations to compost facilities -- many of them have seen near doubling or more in terms of material they have taken in around the July 1 date. So, a lot of our smaller transfer stations, because they have a lot of residential people coming in, have seen a doubling one even saw a tripling in the last year,” he said.

Even though the state doesn’t have data yet to see if food scraps are out of the waste stream, they know there are food scraps being picked up. “Probably the biggest gap that was filled during this past year to two years around this food waste ban, was residential curbside services for food scrap collection,” said Kelly.

Because folks don’t want to do their own composting or take it to a facility themselves, haulers like Music Mountain are popping up and filling in gaps, while also turning enough profit to expand. “More routes, expand into more areas, so, Bennington, I want to go into Middlebury. So, I have a list of towns I want to get into,” said Cavacas.

Though none of this was planned, he’s learned that chances are something to take in the future. “The last job was what I thought I was going to do forever, and so just take a chance on myself,” said Cavacas.

Kelly says they are still combing through data from last year and expect to release it around September or October. A waste characterization study that gives an even more accurate depiction of what is in Vermont’s trash is set for 2023.

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