Starting July 1st, Vermont has two new laws designed to reduce waste. One will be easy for residents, as it’s been in the works for a while. Shoppers will need to bring reusable bags or boxes to all retailers or start paying a fee for paper bags. Plastic bags are banned from stores and will not be available.
The food scraps law is one that is proving to be most confusing to Vermonters. It’s vital to understand what your responsibilities are starting in July as iIt’s going to require some work for Vermont residents. The bottom line is that food scraps may no longer go into the trash. This means all food scraps. You must find a way to compost them.
To understand the new law, Vermonters need to understand what the state defines as food scraps. In this case, food scraps are anything that you eat or come from the things you eat. The partial loaf of bread that went moldy on your counter, it’s a food scrap. The oil you cooked fish and chips in, that’s also a food scrap. Spoiled milk, eggshells, and vegetable/fruit peels have to be composted. Coffee grounds, bones, meat scraps, and past-date leftovers are also included. Rancid salad dressings, past-date condiments, stale baked goods, pet foods, and grains that pantry pests snuck into also cannot no longer go into the trash.
Starting July 1st, homeowners, renters, and landlords all must start composting these items. How do you handle this new law? As a homeowner, composting is going to be the best option if there’s no curbside pick-up in your city or town. Landlords must set up programs for their residents. Businesses must also arrange curbside pick-up or composting.
Different Options for Composting or Disposing of Food Scraps
How should you start composting your food scraps? It depends on how much space you have. If you’re composting, it’s recommended that you have two piles. Some people feel it’s not safe to use compost that contains meats and dairy in a food garden due to the possibility of contamination from unhealthy bacteria. Grains, vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and tea leaves can go into compost for fruit and vegetable gardens. Here are some of the options that are being recommended to homeowners and landlords.
Bury the Bones, Meat, and Dairy Items
One suggestion is to compost food scraps that can go into vegetable and fruit gardens. For items that may leave harmful bacteria behind, you can bury them in an unused area of your yard. This includes bones, meat scraps, and dairy items. If you do opt to bury them, you want to dig a hole that’s at least 18 inches deep and make sure it’s fully covered when you’re done. This isn’t a practical suggestion given the temperatures in the winter and the difficulty digging when there’s a deep frost line.
DIY or Ready-Made Compost Bins
The most traditional option is to make or purchase a compost bin. It doesn’t take much to make one. Build a frame using boards, posts, or skids that are not treated with chemicals. Cedar boards or posts are ideal as they’ll repel insects like carpenter ants. Leave one side open so that you can mix the material with a pitchfork or shovel from time to time. You can find guides online for easy-to-make compost bins. You need to build two of them.
If you don’t want to build your own, head to a garden center or home improvement store and look for ready-made compost bins and tumblers. They’ll better suit people with small yards. You will need two of them. One for garden-safe compost and one for meat and dairy compost.
It will be easiest if you have two buckets with tight-fitting lids. One will hold items that can be used in food gardens. The other is for meat and dairy food scraps. The one that will end up as compost for your gardens can be located closer to your vegetable or fruit gardens. The other should be located farther from the house in case there’s an odor.
Each day, collect your food scraps in the appropriate bucket. Label them to prevent errors. At the end of the week, you’ll take the bucket to the compost pile and dump the contents onto the top. Follow that with a layer of newspaper, grass clippings, leaves, pine needles, etc. to cover the food and keep odors down.
If you live in an area where bears, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and other forms of wildlife have been seen, you’ll want to have a covered compost bin. A bear-proof compost bin may be best to keep them away. Motion-detecting spotlights will also help. If you have a problem with bears, ask your local game warden for additional tips. You may have to stop composting meat scraps for a while. If that’s the case, the state isn’t penalizing homeowners as safety must come first.
The Bokashi Method
Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation recommends using the Bokashi method for composting. If you do opt for this method, you need to build or purchase a Bokashi bin and purchase a bag of the starter. This starter contains bacteria that ferments the food scraps and turns them into a “tea” that drains from the bottom spigot of the container. Mix that tea with water in gardens or create a worm farm and use it to feed your worms.
The Green Cone is another Bokashi-style system that’s being recommended by towns. This dark green or black cone is partially burned in the ground. Place bones, meat scraps, and dairy items into it and seal the top. The sun heats the cone and uses carbon dioxide and water to break down the food scraps into a sludge. That resulting sludge goes through the bottom and into the soil where soil and bedrock filter out bacteria before it reaches underground aquifers.
Feed Livestock Like Pigs and Chickens
Are you adventurous? One other suggestion is to get pigs. Get some pigs and let them take care of your food scraps. If you do this, it’s important that the pigs are being raised as pets and not intended for food. Pigs that eat meat scraps should not be consumed due to the higher risk of contagions.
You can also feed some food scraps to chickens. They cannot have meat and bone scraps, but your produce scraps are good for chickens. You gain the added benefit of having a steady supply of eggs.
What Happens if You Cannot Compost in Your Yard?
What happens if you don’t have a yard or rent rather than own? Do not try to avoid composting by putting food scraps down the drain. Wastewater facilities may not be prepared for an influx of bones and meat scraps. They also do not need people pouring used cooking oil down the drain.
If you do not have space for two compost piles or interest in Bokashi systems, there are two recommendations. One is to call your trash hauler to see if they’re offering food scrap recycling. Some are providing curbside pick-up at an additional cost. Others simply are not equipped to offer that service yet. If you rent, talk to your landlord to see if anything is being set up.
For districts where food scrap pick-up isn’t being offered, residents must drive to their nearest participating recycling facility and dump the contents in the food scrap recycling bin. Check Recycle Nation for a list of facilities offering food scrap recycling in your zip code.