Vermont Becomes First State to ‘Ban’ Food Waste, in Favor of Composting – and Cutting Landfill Waste in Half

Short of creating a new police department consisting of ‘Oscar the Grouch’ and his friends, Vermont has done almost everything it can to eliminate food waste ending up in state landfills.

A new piece of legislature called the Food Waste Ban prohibits the disposal of compostable food waste like egg shells, coffee grounds, old bread, and fruit skins. While it’s obviously difficult to enforce such a ban, Vermont is the first state to enact such a law, and state officials see it as an opportunity to spread awareness—and they’re hoping for voluntary compliance from Vermont’s environmentally-conscious citizens.

It’s one objective of the state’s overall plan to cut 50% of all trash that ends up in landfills, diverting it instead to facilities where it can be reused, recycled, or composted. With only 36% of that target reached, it is believed the goal can only become a reality if food waste is widely addressed.

Every five years, Vermont state officials take a survey of what’s being thrown out. The most recent survey found that around 20% of household waste is food scraps which could be composted into fertilizer for the state’s fields and farms.

Along with missing out on an opportunity for high quality compost, food waste which ends up in state and county landfills produces methane as it decomposes. While methane only survives in the atmosphere for about 10-12 years compared to potentially thousands of years the way CO2 does, the former is up to 32-times stronger when it comes to intensifying the sun’s rays and creating the conditions for accelerated global climate change.

“People say, ‘What does this mean with a food waste ban? [Are] people going to be out there looking in my garbage for my apple cores?’” says Josh Kelly, materials management section chief with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Speaking to Fast Company, Kelly explains that the state will not be policing people’s roadside garbage. The ban is more a plan to take advantage of the already widespread act of private composting, to push through investments in private and public composting infrastructure, and allow businesses that handle drop-off or curbside pick up of compost to buy more equipment and build more facilities.

Vermont is also supporting its composters by releasing detailed guides and information on what can be recycled—and what should be composted. They are also providing support for food rescue programs that help divert edible food to people in need.

It’s not perfect, but Kelly believes it’s a good ‘next-step’ to help The Green Mountain State reach its goal of cutting landfill waste in half.