The holiday season produces lots of joy and good cheer. It also produces mountains of waste, including tons of food scraps.
According to Worldwatch Institute, Americans generate an extra 5 million tons of household waste between Thanksgiving and New Year’s; three times as much food waste as at other times of the year.
“As Vermonters enter the holiday season, a time of giving and celebration, the amount of waste generated, especially food waste, is staggering,” said Lisa Ransom, co-owner, with her husband Scott Baughman, of Grow Compost of Vermont, a Moretown-based company that picks up food scraps and other organic matter and makes compost.
Joe Fusco, vice president of communications for Casella Waste Systems, of Rutland, the largest waste management company in the state, said Casella sees a “substantial” increase in waste collected during the holiday season. “There is a lot more food produced (around) Thanksgiving than any other weekend,” he said.
Fusco said waste haulers are like “anthropologists.” Everything people do, he said, including celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, “shows up in what we throw away.”
In recognition of that extra waste load, Cassandra Hemenway, outreach manager for the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, said CVSWMD placed an advertisement in the local paper prodding people to dispose of food waste in a more productive way than trash, and listed nine transfer sites in the area that accept food scraps.
CVSWMD, the first organization in Vermont to haul food scraps for composting, started collecting food scraps in 2004 and “transitioned” that task to Grow Compost in July of this year.
In November, to help deal with the holiday excess and to encourage Vermonters to think about food scraps as a resource, Grow Compost offered a two-month trial period for food-scrap pick-up, instead of its standard contract timeline.
“Holidays are a time when our food and eating together becomes a focus. We think this is a great time for people to think about what happens to their uneaten food,” Ransom said.
Grow Compost hauls food scraps from restaurants, resorts, schools and grocers — any business that generates food scraps in eight of Vermont’s counties. Next spring, the company will begin residential food-scrap service.
Grow Compost produces about 2,000 cubic yards of compost per year at its Moretown farm, and plans to open a new compost site in North Hartland, which will produce an additional 3,000 cubic yards of compost a year.
“Our model is to partner with local farms and anaerobic digesters throughout Vermont in order to keep our food cycles local. Our goal is to haul the heavy food scraps and local organic material, such as residuals from breweries, as few miles as possible,” Ransom said.
All of the compost that Grow Compost produces is high-grade horticultural compost, certified by the Vermont Organic Farmers Association for use in organic production.
Ransom and Baughman started their business in 2008 as a small diversified farm in Moretown with “space for nurturing microbial life and creating healthy soil.”
With the introduction of the Universal Recycling Law in 2012, which bans organic materials from landfills, Grow Compost “became focused on food-scrap and organic-material recovery, farm-residual management, the desire for high-grade compost in organic gardening and food production throughout New England, and the stewardship of agricultural resources in our communities,” Ransom said.
The Vermont Legislature passed the Universal Recycling law in 2012, which banned the disposal of recyclables (metal, glass, plastics #1 & #2, and paper/cardboard) in July 2015; leaf and yard debris and clean wood, July 2016; and food scraps by July 1, 2020. It also requires solid-waste haulers and facilities to collect these same materials with the exception of clean wood. Vermont residents must separate food scraps beginning July 1, 2020.
Four other states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and California — also ban food scraps in landfills, but all four focus on large generators of food scraps, such as hospitals and restaurants. Vermont is the only state to extend the ban to private homes.
Several factors contributed to the passage of the recycling law, including the fact that landfill space in Vermont “is limited, and one of the two major landfills is nearing its capacity,” said Josh Kelly, materials management section chief for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources’ Solid Waste Program.
According to Vermont’s 2013 Waste Composition Study, nearly 100,000 tons of organic materials are sent to landfill sites each year, and about 60,000 tons of that is food scraps.
“When this material decomposes in landfills, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Preventing organic materials from entering the landfill not only saves limited landfill space, it also reduces the emissions of methane, while enabling us to recapture the nutrient value of the material,” Kelly said.
The Universal Recycling law is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Vermont waste by 37 percent, Kelly said.