Vermont’s food waste laws are popular, but troubling issues remain



A new study on Vermont’s first-in-the-nation food waste law and ban on single-use plastics identifies areas for improvement.

A person dumps leftover food from a bucket into a large composter.

Many Vermonters have bought into the state’s pioneering food waste laws, but confusion and frustration remain among some residents and businesses, a UVM study found. Photo: USDA

Basil Waugh, University of Vermont Vermonters mostly support laws dealing with food scraps and single-use plastics, but some are confused about composting laws, and frustrated by the state’s inability to compost biodegradable containers and tableware.

The findings are from the first studies to tackle the state’s pioneering food waste laws – Act 148 (food scraps) and Act 69 (single-use plastics) – which took effect on July 1, 2020.

“Vermont is the first state to legally require residents and businesses to divert their food scraps from their garbage,” said lead researcher Emily Bellarmino of the University of Vermont. “These new findings will help policymakers learn from our experience here and in other states.”

Two UVM research reports were released today.

Emily Bellarmino, University of Vermont

The first report examines legislation dealing with food waste – the Universal Recycling Act (Act 148). To reduce the impact of food waste in Vermont landfills—especially methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—the law requires all residents, businesses and institutions to keep their food scraps in the trash.

Key findings on the impact of the Food Waste Act:

  • A majority of Vermonters (85%) compost, and 61% say they feel a “moral obligation” to keep food scraps out of landfills.
  • Residential waste sorting increased 48% with yard composting as the leading method.
  • More than a quarter of Vermonters (26%) are confused by food waste laws, and one-fifth of households (20%) say it’s difficult or very difficult.
  • Support for businesses is high, but restaurants report a more negative impact on costs and revenues than food retailers.
  • Continuing challenges: Access to composting facilities in apartments and condos, winter composting and general composting education.

A second study report deals with the Single Use Plastics Act (Act 69).

To reduce the harmful environmental effects of single-use plastics, Vermont law prohibits stores and food service establishments from providing single-use plastic carrier bags at the point of sale or Styrofoam food and beverage containers, plastic straws (unless requested by the customer). and plastic stirrers. Additionally, the law allows stores to offer single-use paper bags if the customer pays at least 10 cents per bag.

Key findings on the impact of Vermont’s single-use plastic law:

  • Vermonters now bring home an average of 6 fewer plastic bags per week.
  • Businesses say charging for paper bags is the law’s most challenging requirement.
  • Businesses identify Vermont’s inability to recycle compostable or biodegradable tableware and tableware as a source of frustration.
  • A majority of Vermonters (66%) say the environmental benefits of a plastic bag ban outweigh the economic costs.
  • Restaurants and other food service businesses reported more negative impacts than food retailers.

The study is based on two key data sources: The 2022 consumer survey is based on a statewide Vermonter poll of nearly 800 residents and a 2021-22 business survey of nearly 100 food service and food retail professionals.

“This study shows that businesses and consumers have been surprisingly supportive of these laws — sometimes with heated debates early — even when new costs are imposed,” said Bellarmino, a researcher at the Gund Institute for the Environment and UVM’s College of Agriculture. Life Sciences. “That said, people still need more education about the law and composting in general. And food businesses need help identifying cheaper alternatives to single-use plastics that are accepted by local recycling and/or composting facilities.”

Support and frustration

The study includes strong testimonials from residents and businesses. “We tried to implement this ban [on plastics] They have received a lot of negative feedback before the law and from customers,” said a food retailer owner. “By bringing it through litigation, adoption was immediate and there was no customer pressure because we weren’t the only ones. The law made it simple, painless and amazing.

Another owner of a food retail and service business said, “We have worked hard to change the way we use singles [plastics] To celebrate being recycled or composted… a few months ago [we] The Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) has confirmed that they will no longer accept most of the compostable products that we have turned to… This is extremely disappointing, and now that it is all garbage, we are back to… cheap, non-compostable products. ”

Cleaning of garbage cans

Americans produce nearly a pound of food waste every day—with significant negative environmental impacts, according to a previous UVM study. Food waste is one of the most common types of materials found in landfills in the US and Vermont, producing methane as it decomposes. Landfills are the third largest source of US methane emissions (17%), after petroleum production and livestock farming.

Plastics comprise nearly one-fifth of products in US landfills — one-eighth in Vermont’s municipal landfills — and contribute to harmful environmental impacts, polluting soil, freshwater and marine ecosystems with microplastics.

The UVM study follows a recent state report on solid waste that shows Vermont has not met the state’s goal of recycling and recycling half of its total waste.

Read the two research reports:The Impact of Vermont’s Food Residue Ban (Act 148): Evidence from Consumers and Food Businesses And The Impact of the Single-Use Plastic Products Rule (Act 69) on Consumers and Food Businesses: Evidence from Vermont. The research team includes Emily Bellarmino, Claire Ryan, Qinbin Wang, Meredith Niles, and Margaret Thornes.

Source: 2.7.2023 Burlington University of Vermont


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