As the state prepares to launch the first-in-the-nation mandate to compost all organic waste by 2020, some food producers might be required to comply as soon as next year.
The Agency of Natural Resources released a 140-page report on Thursday detailing the implementation of Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, established last year under Act 148 to expand statewide recycling, redemption and composting.
By July 1 next year, food processors with more than 104 tons of food waste per year will be required to compost their food residuals if a facility is located within their 20-mile radius. This is the first phase toward a statewide mandate to compost all organic waste by 2020.
According to a May 2013 study by the Department of Environmental Conservation, by weight, organics account for about 28 percent of residential waste, outranking all other disposed materials.
The report estimates a total of about 5,000 tons of organic waste to be diverted from the landfill in the first year of implementation. That amount is expected in increase nearly ten-fold when the universal recycling program is completely phased in.
ANR’s report states that while approximately “30 percent of food residuals are assumed to be delivered to low-cost farm operations, the remaining 70 percent require construction of new organics management facilities at an estimated total investment of at least $20 million” over the course of Act 148’s entire implementation.
While there is still little urgency, some composting facilities are waiting for funds to make the capital improvements.
John Hurd, acting executive director for the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District, said solid waste districts around the state will need to start investing their composting facilities to prepare for the prospective mandate.
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Currently, he said there is a 175-acre site in his district that he plans to use for composting materials. The Greater Upper Valley SWD, which serves about 9,000 households, currently accepts food waste, leaf and yard debris, manure and wood waste, according to the report.
Hurd will have to make several capital improvements to his facility to accommodate more compost, he said. His district will not be entirely responsible for these costs, however. One source of funding could come from the state’s plan to double the tax on waste disposal – from $6 to $12 per ton. Hurd said the state might choose to invest resulting revenues back into solid waste districts.
According to ANR’s report, doubling the state franchise fee could raise roughly $2.5 million annually at current disposal rates. Other sources of funding will still be necessary for capital improvements, however, especially after disposal rates fall as Act 148 intends them to.
He said the mandate grants a return on investment for composting facilities.
Jeffrey Clokey, owner of White Clover Farm in Fairfax, operates a small-scale composting facility that processes about 100 yards of compost per year. Clokey said he will need to essentially start from scratch if he plans to process food waste next year.
Currently, Clokey holds a $40 license to compost dead animals, anything from horses to potbelly pigs, he said. Clokey does not have the necessary infrastructure to compost food residuals. He will need to purchase the necessary tools, such as cans, containers and cleaning supplies, because composting animals is very different than composting food waste, he said.
“For me to switch over, I would have to do two things at once,” he said. “It’s going to take a while to get this all on board.”
He said he doesn’t know how much it will cost to make the necessary capital improvements. Either way, he said he is interested in expanding his business.
“Being an entrepreneur, you kind of roll with the times,” he said. “I’m studying it as I go along here.”
There are currently 17 farm-based anaerobic digestion, or compost, facilities in the state that accept some form of organic waste, ranging from food waste to leaf and yard debris, according to the report.
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