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Vermont bans food waste to landfill

ENVIRONMENT

Residents of the state of Vermont can no longer simply toss their food waste in the landfill bin. Under a new law that came into effect on July 1, households and businesses are required to compost any food scraps — including peels, eggshells, and pits — in their own compost bins or wormfarms or via a professional compost facility. While other US states have taken steps to curb food waste, particularly for businesses, Vermont is the first to include individuals.


Vermont has a goal of diverting half of all waste from landfill to facilities where it can be composted, recycled or reused. That target has been in place for more than a decade, says Josh Kelly, materials management section chief with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, yet the best they’d been able to do was reduce waste by about 36%. “The only way you can really bring that down is by focusing on the food waste issue,” he told Fast Company.


Every five years, Vermont officials dig through the state’s garbage bins to see what residents are throwing out, and they’ve consistently found that 20% is food waste.


Officials won’t be digging through kerbside cans to bust composting crims, though. Kelly says the state doesn’t have the resources nor desire to enforce the ban at the residential level. Instead, officials are asking for voluntary compliance — and they expect to get it, based on how seriously Vermonters take their green cred.


Even before the ban, 72% of Vermonters were composting at home or fed their food scraps to livestock, according to the University of Vermont. Many people live in Vermont because they love the rural landscape, so it’s part of their ethics to keep that landscape pristine and to use food waste to improve their soil, says Kelly.


The state has invested in composting infrastructure to make compliance easier, including grants for compost facilities to buy equipment, expand kerbside pick-up, and build anaerobic digesters to turn compost into energy. There are more than 100 drop-off stations for food scraps, and almost every town has one within 15kms.


The new law also provides more support for food rescue and donation efforts, to divert edible food from landfill to those in need.

There is a potential challenge, however. Some facilities are food scraps-only, meaning they don’t accept napkins or compostable cups, which means their compost may not be able to be used by farmers as a soil nutrient. “If people are taking this material and making a lot of compost, but the compost is full of plastic contamination, you’re essentially just taking one waste and converting it to another waste,” says Kurt Erickson, general manager at Vermont Compost Company. “If the simple objective is to divert material from landfill, I think the success there is really limited. What success would look like is, yes, we’re diverting this material from landfill, but we’re managing it well, keeping contamination as close to zero as we can, and we’re returning these nutrients back to farmland to grow food.”


Still, he agrees Vermont is already a step ahead of most states. Even if this law isn’t 100% perfect right now, Kelly hopes Vermont can be a model for other states looking to deal with their food waste.


MEANWHILE

Online groceries are now being offered in reusable packaging

The UK’s first online shopping service delivering leading brand food, drink and household goods in reusable packaging aims to kickstart moves to reduce single use plastic that stalled as a result of the pandemic, amid fears of contamination and as recycling rates plummeted during lockdown.


Loop — already up and running in the US and France and due to be rolled out in Japan, Australia and Canada in 2021 — is backed by majors such as Unilever and PepsiCo, which have created eco-versions of popular brands — including Coca-Cola, Heinz and Persil — to sell via the website.


Customers can place online orders for items that typically come in single-use plastic. They will be delivered instead in durable, refillable containers that can be collected from the doorstep and cleaned for reuse up to 100 times. Heinz’s tomato ketchup, for example, will be delivered in its patented glass octagonal bottles that were designed 130 years ago.


Initially, 150 products from 35 brands will be on offer, with more to come. While shoppers will only be able to buy from the Loop website, a partnership with Tesco — which will absorb the platform into its own business — aims to eventually put dedicated aisles in its stores.


Loop is run by the recycling company TerraCycle, which is testing it in a national trial. Key to the scheme is online ordering, which has surged with the pandemic. Prices will be comparable to the equivalent plastic container, but with returnable deposits for the refillable containers.

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