Vermont set a precedent in waste conservation this month when it became the first U.S. state to ban food scraps in trash.
The legislation, which took effect July 1, prohibits residents, restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses from disposing of food scraps ― such as peels, rinds, seeds eggshells, coffee grinds and meal leftovers ― into trash cans or other containers used for refuse.
“If it was once part of something alive, like a plant or animal, it does not belong in the landfill,” officials say on the state’s website.
Yard debris like leaves and cut grass are also included in the ban.
The law requires Vermonters to collect their food scraps in a separate container. At that point, they have three options: compost the scraps on their own property, take them to a drop-off facility or hire an outside company for at-home pickup.
The food-scrap ban mirrors those adopted by San Francisco, Seattle and some other large U.S. cities, but Vermont is the first state to enact such legislation. Its law codifies what is already a widespread practice ― a recent study by the University of Vermont found that 72% of the state’s residents already composting.
“Vermont is ahead of the curve because we have such a strong agricultural base, it makes it a no-brainer for us,” Vermont-based compost consultant Cat Buxton told the Valley News. “We have a lot of people who know how to manage organic waste of all kinds and they’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Vermont officials estimate that at present, about 20% of the state’s waste comes from food. When that waste is disposed of in a landfill and covered, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
Along with its environmental impact, officials hope the law will make Green Mountain State residents more conscious of the financial benefits of wasting less food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that a family of four can save an average of $1,500 annually by being less wasteful.
“From a climate change and greenhouse gas perspective, this is huge,” Josh Kelly of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources has said. “In addition, it puts our waste to work. It puts it into a job-creating system where you are creating a product that is being processed and made into something and it’s not disposed of.”