Vt. officials say they'll be ready to meet compost law by July

Published: Feb. 20, 2020 at 8:22 AM EST
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Vermont Agency of Natural Resources officials estimate compost facilities will need to double their capacity by July under the state's Universal Recycling Law.

That's when everyone in the state will be required to properly dispose of compost in an effort to cut down the amount of food waste by 33 percent.

Officials say this is going to be a big change for Vermont as it's the first state in the country to enact a law requiring residents composted food waste. Back in 2018, many compost facilities said they couldn't take more without making a few changes.

ANR says Vermonters now compost about 55,000 tons of food waste per year. By July, they anticipate that number will nearly double to 97,000 tons.

Through a number of programs preparing for this summer, the agency says the state's composting sites will be able to take in between 100,000 to 120,000 tons of scraps.

In other words, officials say they are ready.

"We are absolutely ready to accept all the food scraps that the public will be generating and keeping out of their trash leading up to July 1 and beyond," said Michele Morris with Chittenden Solid Waste District.

As the largest compost facility in the state, CSWD's Green Mountain Compost site receives between 5,000 to 6,000 tons of food scraps per year.

Before the Universal Recycling Law was passed in 2012, it took in half that supply.

"We're able to accept and process more quickly the materials that we are taking now," said Morris.

But that's about as much as they can handle for now. That is, leaders say, until they can make some changes. By July, district leaders say they're anticipating Chittenden County residents will dispose of at least 10,000 tons.

"We know that on July 1 it's not going to be like flipping a switch and suddenly we're going to get four-thousand more tons. We don't really know what we're going to get. We have estimates of what Vermonters are still sending to the landfill, so some fraction of that is definitely going to be coming our way," said Morris.

According to the Agency of Natural Resources, about 20 percent of Vermont's trash is currently food waste.

Preparing to take in the additional volume, CSWD is proposing two major upgrades to its board -- invest in a piece of equipment that can do the work of four, and expand the facility's curing area so it can process material as quickly as possible.

Leaders say they'll fund it using the $500,000 grant awarded to them by the ANR in 2018 and $750,000 out of pocket for a total of a more than $1 million project.

"We've done a lot of work to get to this point," said Josh Kelly with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.

A good portion of that work was distributing grants to four of the state's 12 compost facilities -- in Williston, Brattleboro, Hartland and Johnson --all of which put the money toward increasing efficiency.

"The most common theme is processing capacity for food waste," said Kelly.

But five months out, a lot of those upgrades aren't done. But we're told that's because they're still not sure what to expect.

When asked if CSWD anticipates growing pains, Morris said there are a lot of growth opportunities.

The CSWD will present the proposed changes to its board at the end of this month.

Agency officials say they think many people are ready and have been ready to take on the transition.

"There's some people who've been composting for a very long time, some all their lives, and so they're completely ready, whether they compost at home or they use their local drop off. In the Northeast Kingdom, for example, they have food scrap drop-offs all across the most rural part of the state, and many people are just used to bringing their trash there, their recyclables there, and their food waste there," said Kelly.

Once the equipment and infrastructure upgrades are approved, leaders say it'll take between 18 months to two years to finish the project.

Part of the reason why they're not sure what to expect is because the law will be difficult to enforce on the residential level.