Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law
In 2012, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which effectively bans disposal of three major types of waste materials commonly found in Vermonters’ trash bins over the course of six years:
- “blue bin” recyclables BY JULY 2015
- leaf and yard debris; clean wood BY JULY 2016
- food scraps (organic, compostable kitchen wastes) BY JULY 2020
The law contains other provisions designed to make it easier and more convenient for Vermont residents and businesses to meet each landfill (or disposal) ban by the established dates. To learn more about these provisions, skip below to the Main Features section.
Why the Law Was Passed Unanimously
More than half of what Vermonters throw away can be diverted from landfills
Out of all the waste Vermont generates annually, only about 35% gets sent somewhere other than a landfill to be recycled, composted, or reused. That’s on par with the national average recycling rate of 35% (U.S. EPA), and when the Universal Recycling law was passed, it hadn’t changed for more than 10 years. Why so low? The chart below shows what materials the average Vermonter puts in the trash everyday (by weight). If everyone recycled or composted, Vermont could cut its landfill waste by more than half.
Meaningful alternatives exist for uneaten food and food scraps
When food scraps end up in landfills, they release powerful methane gas that contribute to climate change. What’s the use of landfilling uneaten food when we can feed our neighbors, feed animals to produce local eggs and meat, or create rich soil and renewable energy products instead? The Universal Recycling Law outlines how Vermont businesses and residents should prioritize what happens to food waste to achieve greater good:
Technical Aspects: how the law works, policy guidance… or “How the Law Works”
Who Must Comply and When
View the Universal Recycling Timeline Summary to see all the major compliance dates chronologically ordered.
By Audience Type
Waste Haulers: Must offer collection services to residential and commercial customers over time, including recycling and food scrap collection
Drop-off Centers and Transfer Stations: Must offer drop-off or tipping floor for recycling and food scrap collection over time
Residents: Must recycle by 2015; must compost leaf & yard debris by 2016; must keep food scraps out of trash by 2020.
Businesses and Institutions: Same recycling and leaf & yard debris dates as resident. All businesses divert food scraps by 2020, with some larger businesses phasing-in earlier depending on food waste generated each week.
Main Features of the Law
Parallel Collection: Waste haulers and drop-off centers that offer trash collection services are required to offer recycling and food scrap collection services in advance of each landfill ban going into effect. For example, waste haulers and facilities must offer food scrap collection by 2017, so that there is time for residents and businesses to find a preferred way to manage their food scraps by 2020.
Unit-Based Pricing or “Pay-As-You-Throw”: All Vermont towns are required to pass ordinances that require waste haulers and transfer stations to bundle the costs of recycling and trash collection into one fee for residential customers only. This mechanism levels the playing field for residents across the State, so households do not have to make decisions about whether or not to recycle based on their wallets.
Public Space Recycling: Any trash container in a public space needs to be accompanied by a recycling receptacle as of July 2015, making recycling more convenient in more locations. Public spaces include city streets, parks, municipal offices, schools, and more; bathrooms are exempt.
Phased-In Food Scrap Ban: Businesses and institutions that produce large amounts of food waste–such as supermarkets, college campuses, and restaurants–are required to comply with the landfill ban on food scraps earlier than residents, if they are located within 20 road miles of a composting facility that willingly accepts food scraps. This phased-in approach is designed to create demand for food scrap collection, and support investments in new food scrap collection infrastructure. To review the compliance timeline for commercial entities…
Frequently Asked Questions
The top three most frequently asked questions received by Dept. of Environmental Conservation staff:
- How is the law going to be enforced?
- Can I get recycling bins or composting bins for free?
- I rent an apartment or house. Does my landlord have to provide recycling?
Communication and Outreach Tools
Go to the Universal Recycling Downloads page for posters, fact sheets, web ads, and signage for recycling, compost, and trash containers.