Energy & Environment

Compost start-ups thrive as Casella lags on rural collection

A worker disposes of an apple core in a food scrap receptacle at Chittenden Solid Waste District transfer station in Williston on Thursday, July 2, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

RUTLAND — Small start-up compost companies are filling gaps in Rutland County created by large waste companies’ lack of curbside pickup options.

As of July 1, the final phase of Act 148, Vermont’s Universal Recycling and Composting Law, which the Legislature unanimously passed in 2012, went into effect, banning any food scraps from entering the landfill. 

The law also requires that waste companies add food scrap pickup to their list of services “unless another hauler will provide that service.”

Casella Waste Systems, Inc., based in Rutland and the largest waste management company in the state, does not offer compost pickup for local residents. 

“Composting today is where we were with recycling 40 years ago,” said Joe Fusco, a vice president at Casella Waste Systems. “It’s not just a switch you can flip.”

While Casella offers compost pickup in Chittenden County and several other areas of the state, the service is not yet economically viable for the company on a statewide level, particularly in rural areas, Fusco said.

“The long story short is, we’re not really seeing a lot of interest in curbside services,” he said.

That has driven many Rutland County residents to look elsewhere for compost pickup. Carl Diethelm, outreach coordinator for Rutland County Solid Waste Management, said his office has seen a surge of calls in the last several days.

“We’ve had more questions than I’ve ever had since I started here three years ago,” said Diethelm. “In general, most people are really just looking for resources on how to comply, and I’m really glad we can provide them with a good amount of ideas.”

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Local options for compost processing include backyard garden systems or delivering compost to the regional transfer station on Gleason Road. 

Diethelm is concerned about the lack of curbside hauling options for people in Rutland County. 

“The residential thing has been a gap for us,” he said.

He’s directed folks who are interested in curbside pickup to Zach Cavacas, a one-man show and newly minted owner of Music Mountain Compost LLC. 

Cavacas declined to share the exact number of customers who have signed up for his program, but says he’s taken on dozens since he began accepting clients on June 25. He signed on five more in a two-hour period on Thursday.

“I got my permit from the state in the middle of June,” he said. “Covid kind of turned my life upside down, and I’m just making the best of it.”

Cavacas says he lost his job working at an inpatient rehab facility in April. He’s always been interested in homesteading, and saw a business opportunity when he learned about Act 148. 

Music Mountain charges $20 per month for biweekly pickups. Cavacas provides 5-gallon buckets for his customers and has had difficulty finding enough receptacles to meet the rising demand. 

“I’ve been driving all over the state trying to find enough buckets and lids,” he said.

Cavacas lives in Stockbridge, but plans to travel as far as Royalton and Fair Haven. Most of his customers are based in Rutland City. 

Music Mountain Compost LLC is just one example of compost companies looking to expand into Rutland County. 

Grow Compost offers statewide food scrap hauling services with drop-off sites in Moretown and North Hartland. Though the company doesn’t currently have a large book of residential clients in Southern Vermont, they recently began hauling compost from Rutland Regional Medical Center and hope to expand their route. 

“We’re just starting to dip our toes in the water down there,” he said. 

Grow Compost has also been experiencing high call volume. Route Manager Kyle Lanzit said the company, which has 10 employees, has been preparing to help implement Act 148 for years. 

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In a 2017 letter to state legislators, Grow Compost owner Lisa Ransom detailed the preparations the company has made in anticipation of the mandatory compost deadline. 

“Over the past 5 years, Grow Compost has invested over half a million dollars to expand our business to meet the needs of the Universal Recycling Law,” she said. 

Her letter encouraged lawmakers to uphold the timeline, which has been challenged — most recently by Casella

In a March letter to lawmakers, John Casella called for an “indefinite delay” of the Universal Recycling Bill, due to concerns about the expenses and risks of processing food waste during Covid-19. 

With the law in effect, Fusco said Casella will consider adding a compost pickup option as it becomes financially sustainable. 

“I think, like anything else,” he said. “We’re always wanting to be on that front edge, looking at how we can make it more economically sensible, how we can play a role in developing the infrastructure necessary so that a decade or more away from now, this is as natural and normal as, perhaps, collecting recyclables at the curb.”

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Emma Cotton

About Emma

Emma Cotton is a Report for America corps member with a special focus on issues of importance to Southern Vermont. She previously worked as a reporter for the Addison Independent, where she covered politics, business, the arts and environmental issues. She also served as an assistant editor at Vermont Sports magazine and VT Ski + Ride. Emma majored in science journalism at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, where she was editor-in-chief of the Current. In 2018, she received a first-place award from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in the columnist category.

Email: [email protected]

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