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As Vermont Prepares To Ban Food Scraps From Trash, St. Albans Gets A Head Start

Melody Bodette
Aaron Shepard of the Northwest Vermont Solid Waste District empties food scrap buckets on the district's new residential collection route. Soon all trash haulers will have to offer food scrap collection to their customers.

As Vermont’s universal recycling law reaches a new phase, more households will have the option to have their food scraps taken away along with their trash and recycling. People in St. Albans are already trying out a new food scrap collection service.

On a weekday morning, Aaron Shepard parks his box truck in front of a house in St. Albans. He’s picking up green 5-gallon pails, each about half full of food scraps, and emptying them into a bin.

“Sometimes buckets get frozen, we have a rubber mallet to knock it out,” he says. Some houses line the bucket with brown paper bags.

Shepard is the programs coordinator for the Northwest Vermont Solid Waste District. His job is to teach people about composting. The district received a grant to start this residential pick up route as a pilot project.

Shepard launched the route in January.

From 2016: Trash Is Down 5 Percent Statewide, Thanks To Vermont's Universal Recycling Law

“We’ve only got 15 people on the route, which is less than I had hoped for initially. We think we have the capacity for 300,” he says. “We would love to get 300 people on the route, because I’d love to get everybody going on composting. It’s the right thing to do, it lessens the amount of waste going to the landfill.”

Starting in July, all trash and recycling haulers must offer food scrap collection to their customers, or contract with another entity to provide that service.

Shepard says the customers separate food scraps for a variety of reasons, but many are sold on the environmental benefits of composting.

“They do it because they know that food scraps breaking down in landfill cause greenhouse cases. Some people like the idea of creating soil,” he says.

But if composting isn’t convenient, Shepard says people won’t do it.

Mary Carmola lives on a tree-lined street in a hilly St. Albans neighborhood. She took one of Shepard’s composting classes, but chose to drop her food scraps off at the transfer station.

“I was concerned that I didn’t really want to set up a composter in my backyard because of the skunks and raccoons and everything else. But he told me about freezing, so I put it in the bag and freeze it, and when I go to Burlington, I drop it off in Georgia. It’s very easy,” she said.

Carmola says it’s much easier now that her food scraps are picked up weekly at her curb. And she thinks the price, $10 per month, is very reasonable.

The food scraps from the St. Albans route are taken to the Hudak farm, where Richard Hudak adds leaves and other materials and lets the scraps break down. He uses the compost on his vegetable fields. 

“This opportunity came along with the new food waste disposal laws for us to have a small source of income by receiving tipping fees for food waste,” he said.  

"We want to see the private haulers pick this up. We don’t want to take the place of the private haulers." — Aaron Shepard, Northwest Vermont Solid Waste District outreach coordinator

Starting in July, all trash and recycling haulers must offer food scrap collection to their customers, or contract with another entity to provide that service. Transfer stations will have to offer a drop-off point for food scraps as well.

The Agency of Natural Resources says that residential food scrap pick-up is where recycling was 20 years ago, with municipalities getting the services underway. Brattleboro has offered residential food scrap pick-up for several years, but only a small number of private haulers take residential food waste.

Schools and businesses that generate large amounts of food scraps are already required to separate those materials, and so a number of haulers offer collection services. The Northwest Vermont Solid Waste District also runs a commercial food scrap route for schools and businesses.

Aaron Shepard says the goal is to create a profitable residential route over the course of the two-year pilot.

“We want to see the private haulers pick this up," he says. "We don’t want to take the place of the private haulers."

In 2020, all Vermont households will be required to separate out their food scraps, but will be able decide whether to compost in their own backyard, take their food scraps to a drop off point or pay for curbside collection.

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
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