Composting, Related Businesses Surge Following Vermont Food Scrap Ban

The number of food scrap haulers has more than tripled in recent years, according to state environmental conservation officials

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State environmental officials in Vermont say that, since composting was mandated last summer, food waste heading into landfills is plummeting and services that haul scraps are surging.

“We have seen people are composting,” said Josh Kelly of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation. “And in increasing numbers.”

Quarter over quarter, food waste tonnage diverted from landfills has been skyrocketing, Kelly said, especially since the state ban became official in July 2020.

Kelly cited 40% and 100% increases in volumes of food waste diverted during the most recent quarters, though he noted those high numbers could be attributable in part to the newness of the universal composting policy. Additionally, restaurants and schools have seen less waste during the pandemic, he pointed out.

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Significant waste reduction can have a real climate impact, he added, explaining landfills emit a lot of methane.

“If we were to compost the food waste that we put in Vermont landfills, it would be the same as taking about 9,000 vehicles off the road each year,” Kelly told NECN.

Kelly added that transfer stations around the state have reported seeing increases in the amount of food scraps dropped off by consumers.

Jen Murphy, a White River Junction-based business owner, picks up and hauls away food scraps from 200 or so customers in and around the Hartford area.

“A passion that I was able to turn into a job,” is how Murphy described her lifelong dedication to composting.

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Jason Hill is a customer of Murphy’s business, which is called Willow Tree Community Compost.

“It’s an easy way to do something positive and make a difference,” Hill said of Murphy’s curbside food scrap pickup service.

As of July 2020, Vermont bans food waste from being disposed of in landfills.

Since meat trimmings, rotting fish or bones could attract wildlife such as skunks or bears — as well as possibly create pathogens — they are exempt from the law when it comes to personal backyard bins.

However, Murphy’s service brings all kinds of scraps to Sunrise Farm, where Chuck Wooster’s large compost pile reaches such hot temperatures, things like bones or clam shells can safely break down.

“It’s been lovely,” Wooster said of the farm’s relationship with Willow Tree Community Compost.

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A few months from now, the heap Murphy added to with her Thursday pickups will be rich fertilizer for the veggies Sunrise grows.

“This idea of kind of knitting the community closer together by having food come from here, food waste come back to here, and really kind of completing that loop right inside our town is super fun,” Wooster said.

Kelly said the number of Vermont food scrap haulers, which serve both residential and business customers, has more than tripled in recent years to roughly 45.

Murphy said her food scrap collection fees may be offset by savings on trash collection.

“It’s great to see the same idea popping up all over the state,” the small business owner said. “The more food scraps that are diverted from the landfill and turned into compost, the better!”

The curbside-to-farmyard link between Willow Tree and Sunrise indicates something else is taking root in this part of the Upper Valley, Murphy and Wooster said. They expressed excitement about how the compost operation will create easy-to-see awareness of a positive cycle for the local food system which may be more relatable for the average consumer than composting’s benefits to far-away landfills.

“Going from from food to food scraps to compost — and turning it back into food,” Murphy said, describing the full circle of how food waste from the community will nourish future crop growth at the farm.

More information on solid waste management in Vermont, including a list of food scrap haulers, is available on this state website.

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