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Vermonters Want To Keep Food Waste Out Of Landfills. They Just Don't Want To Pay For it

A man stands above a landfill pit.
Jane Lindholm
VPR File
The Casella landfill in Coventry is the only landfill operating in Vermont. Beginning July 1, 2020, it will be illegal to throw food items in the trash.

Many Vermonters support a pending ban on food waste from landfills. But a new University of Vermont study found few people want to pay for curbside pick-up of their food scraps.

The landfill ban goes into effect this year. The UVM study found 55% of Vermonters support the ban, and 72% already compost food waste or feed it to livestock or pets.

“That was a really high number. I was pretty surprised by that actually,” said Meredith Niles, an assistant professor in nutrition and food sciences at UVM. “And we also found that about 75% of Vermonters are interested in composting in the future.”

But while people support the idea of keeping leftovers from landfills, and may be committed to home composting themselves, they don’t want to pay extra for food waste pick-up.

“We found that only about a third of Vermonters were interested in using one of those [curbside] programs in the future,” said Niles, who was the lead author of the study. “And most of them indicated they'd be unwilling to pay anything additional for the service.”

"We found that only about a third of Vermonters were interested in using one of those [food waste curbside] programs in the future. And most of them indicated they'd be unwilling to pay anything additional for the service." — Meredith Niles, University of Vermont

The study results were based onquestions in the 2018 “Vermonter Poll”conducted annually by UVM’s Center for Rural Studies. The statewide telephone poll surveyed about 600 Vermont households.

Niles said the study showed that there’s no single solution to managing the state’s food waste. She noted people living in more urban counties or who are renters were more supportive of curbside pick-up programs.

“And so I do think that reflects this idea that people in more densely populated areas, apartment buildings or more densely populated regions, there might be greater interest in those types of programs,” she said. “But in more rural places of Vermont, it may not be the best strategy for all households.”

In general, just a third of those surveyed said they would pay up to $10 a month for curbside pickup. The support dropped precipitously as the cost of the service rose.

“Once it’s over $10 bucks a month about 90% were unwilling to pay anything more than that,” Niles said.

UVM said a research grant from Casella Waste Systems helped pay for the study, though a written statement released by the university said Casella was not involved in the data collection, analysis, or interpretation for the study results.

John worked for VPR in 2001-2021 as reporter and News Director. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier.
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