Resident dropping off compost at CSWD transfer station.

Avoiding Food "Waste"

An estimated 100,000 tons of unwanted food, leaf and yard debris, and other organic materials are sent off to landfills each year in Vermont.   Sixty thousand tons of this is food waste.

We're working to get this number to zero under Vermont's new Universal Recycling Initiative.  Instead of thinking of unwanted food as waste, we can distribute it to those who really need it, turn it into clean energy, and compost it to enrich the soils of Vermont's working landscape.

Working with partners to develop good systems for collecting and using food waste is a top ANR priority. There's a role for individuals, organizations, schools, and government agencies to make a big impact. Learn what you can do.

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Why is Composting a Climate Solution?

Reducing Methane Emissions

When leftovers, vegetable trimmings, egg shells and other food scraps are landfilled, they eventually biodegrade, but not as they would in nature.  The break-down process happens anaerobically, meaning without oxygen, causing the release of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Methane is a short term gas (it doesn’t persist as long as carbon dioxide), but over a twenty year period, it is seventy two times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and causing disruption in climate patterns.  

Put simply, over the next few decades, every pound of methane emissions we avoid is like avoiding seventy two pounds of carbon dioxide emissions.  As a 2009 commentary in the Wall Street Journal points out, it’s a “fast, cheap way to cool the planet.”

Reducing methane emissions is an effective first step that all communities, businesses and households can put into action to help Vermont meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030. 

Reducing Food Waste & Producing Energy and Compost 

There are also important climate benefits to be gained from preventing food waste altogether.  Quality food can be collected and donated to feed those in need.  Food scraps can feed livestock, create compost, or be turned into energy by farms.  

Vermont's homeowners and businesses have an important role to play in making the most of unwanted food.  They can help to shrink Vermont’s emissions of greenhouse gases by turning unwanted food that isn't being donated to  food-insecure Vermonters into compost.  Healthy enriched soils amended with compost can store and build carbon, keeping it out of the atmosphere where it can disrupt the climate, and supporting thriving local farms.  

Many farms across Vermont are building and using menthane digesters as an economical  way to manage manure and other organic materials and to create renewable energy by capturing methane completely before it ends up in the atmosphere.  Farms running on energy produced by methane digesters are helping Vermont meets its goal to get 90% of the energy we need form renewable sources by 2050.

ANR’s Initiatives and Recent Results

The untold economic, climate and other environmental benefits to be gained from using food as a resource helped galvanize legislators to pass Vermont’s new Universal Recycling Law, which will ban the landfilling of food waste in phases.  

ANR is collaborating with many Vermont organizations to help Vermonters get ahead of the new requirements, and begin realizing the many benefits of reducing landfilled food waste.   Some of the agency’s initiatives include:

  • Helping Vermonters understand the new food waste requirements coming into effect across the state, especially colleges, restaurants, supermarkets, and other commercial establishments that will be subject to them in 2017 and 2020.
  • Working with the Farm to Plate Network and the Vermont Food Bank to put new systems into place for recovering good quality, usable food for local soup kitchens and food banks.
  • Helping Vermonters find the information they need to locate composting services or learn how to compost in their own backyard. 

What Can You Do?

Many Vermonters are helping to derive the greatest possible value out of food.  Find out how you can get help put this great climate solution into action in your home, business or school!

  • Food Recovery.  In 2015, the Vermont Food Bank saw an almost a 30% increase in the amount of donated food.  Learn how you can donate food.
  • Compost Services.  Vermont benefits from over 200 food donation centers, 10 food scrap composters, over a dozen food scrap haulers, and has over 17 on-farm digesters.  Find composting services near you. 
  • Home Composting and Food Scape Drop off.    In Central Vermont alone more than 100 businesses, schools, and institutions recycle and separate their food waste for composting.  This kept over 11,000 tons of food waste out of landfills since 2004.  To put this great climate solution into action, contact your local solid waste district, alliance or town for information on home composting and food scrap drop off opportunities in your area.