Landfill disposal of recyclables like glass, paper and plastic milk jugs – fully half the trash discarded by Vermont residents and businesses – is banned by Vermont’ New Recycling law.
At the same time, a lot of organic material is still ending up in landfills. And one-third of this waste is comprised of organic materials like food scraps, mulch and leaves - the basic elements of compost that could provide home gardeners and commercial growers a ready source of what I like to call “black gold.” And by 2020, food scraps from all businesses and residents will be banned from disposal in landfills.
Putting recycled materials to practical use is far better than putting them into a hole in the ground. And regarding these materials as resources rather than waste makes the new recycling law a giant step in the right direction.
In most solid waste districts, mandatory recyclables have been banned from landfills for a while now. As a result, from 2014 to 2015, trash disposal in Chittenden County decreased by 5 percent - while recycling and composting increased by nearly twelve thousand tons.
From 2015 to 2016, food donations grew by nearly 40 percent.
When a student asked how the new law would lower carbon dioxide emissions, I replied that if we capture just 50 percent of the recyclables now going to landfills in Vermont - or twenty nine thousand tons per year – we would eliminate nearly eighty five thousand metric tons of CO2 per year - equivalent to taking almost eighteen thousand cars off the road.
I told the students it won’t be easy; both families and individuals will be challenged. But it’s undeniable that recycling is cheaper than land-filling. And when everyone pays the real cost for the amount we choose to throw in the landfill, it’s more likely we’ll see the essential value of recycling.
Since the future of recycling in the state will lie with young people like these students, after the talk I worked with them on the school composting operation and was given a healthy, nutritious lunch.
Cathy Jamieson, Solid Waste Program Manager for Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation has said that “After decades of landfilling more than two-thirds of Vermont’s materials, it is appropriate to shift our focus to recycling, food donations, and composting.”
I would add that the new law is redefining the concept of waste itself.