Nora Goldstein, Editor, BioCycle

September 17, 2015 | BioCycle Editorials

Editorial: Living Laboratory

Nora Goldstein, Editor, BioCycle

BioCycle September 2015
Nora Goldstein

The other day I was asked who we would recommend to speak in a webinar about effective organics disposal bans. We ran through the list of various states and local governments that have adopted bans, e.g., Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York City. In formulating my response, I thought about the various articles in September’s BioCycle REFOR15 Conference Preview. And I responded, Vermont.
Why? Vermont’s Act 148 — the Universal Recycling Law — is a comprehensive rule that covers the entire solid waste management picture, not just organic waste streams. Taken in its entirety, various requirements enhance success of another. Robert Spencer’s article  “Doubling Residential Organics Diversion With Pay-As-You-Throw (PAYT),” is a case in point. Act 148 requires municipal entities and waste haulers to have a unit based price system — PAYT — for materials collected from residential customers that is based on volume or weight. The PAYT requirement became mandatory on July 1, 2015.
Another requirement in Act 148 is that by 2020, all food scraps, including residential, must be diverted from landfill disposal. With this writing on the wall, the Towns of Brattleboro and Vernon, Vermont — through voluntary pilot curbside collection and residential drop-off — have gradually introduced source separation of food scraps to their residents. Vernon implemented its PAYT program in July 2014. Brattleboro’s program became effective on June 29, 2015. In both communities, the quantity of food scraps diverted increased. Residents are not required to source separate their food scraps at this point. But doing so saves them money.
But Act 148 isn’t the only reason why I selected Vermont as having the most effective organics recycling policy. As you will read in “Vermont Utility Ramps Up Renewable Power Generation”, in 2015, the Vermont legislature passed, and Governor Peter Shumlin signed, Acts 56 and 64. Act 56 establishes a Renewable Energy Standard that requires utilities to meet a 75 percent total renewable energy requirement by 2032 (and an interim goal of 55% by 2017). Act 64 focuses on significantly improving water quality in the state’s Lake Champlain Basin. For the first time, small farms will have to comply with pollution regulations.
This convergence of policies has led Green Mountain Power (GMP) to begin developing community digesters that service multiple farms (aiding the utility in complying with Act 56 and assisting small farms with Act 64 compliance). And GMP’s community digesters, which will accept food waste, will also become part of the infrastructure needed for generators, municipalities and haulers to comply with Act 148. Better yet, GMP and Green Mountain Compost (GMC), located in Williston, Vermont, have started collaborating with the goal of providing GMP an outlet for digested fibers that aren’t utilized for bedding, and GMC an outlet for food wastes that are problematic to compost.
Mary Powell, CEO of GMP, voices her motto: low cost, low carbon energy, i.e., employing renewables and saving its customers money via energy efficiency measures and lowering electricity rates when possible. In Vernon and Brattleboro, residents save money by diverting recyclables and organics.
Time will tell how everything plays out in the State of Vermont. For now, we should all take advantage of learning from this living laboratory.

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