Vermont – Universal Recycling Law

Organics like food scraps and yard debris make up the single largest segment (29%) of Vermont’s residential waste stream, according to a 2018 study. With only one active landfill serving the entire state, Vermont’s need to reduce the amount of its disposed organic waste is quite evident. As such, it has aggressively embarked on a first-of-its-kind, statewide parallel collection program of all mandated recyclable materials, including yard debris and food residuals. By taking a phased-in, but all-encompassing approach, the state aims to have all Vermont citizens diverting food scraps and other organics from landfill disposal by 2020, with all haulers and solid waste management facilities providing services for these materials.

Act 148, the bill that created Vermont’s Universal Recycling (UR) law, was passed by Vermont’s General Assembly on May 16, 2012, to update Vermont’s Waste Management Statutes. Although the UR law went into effect July 1, 2012, the food diversion component of the UR law (as outlined in 10 V.S.A § 6605k) was scheduled to take effect July 1, 2014. The law was amended in 2018 to ban food waste from landfills starting July 2020, and again in 2019 to prohibit the use of single-use plastics.

While Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is responsible for overseeing statewide implementation of the UR law, municipalities are responsible for the management and regulation of the storage, collection, processing, and disposal of solid wastes within their jurisdiction. More information, including guidance materials, studies, and reports can be found on ANR’s Solid Waste website.


Food Scrap Generators (FSG)

Food scrap generators include any “person whose acts or processes produce…food residuals” at the rates listed below, with these parties subject to abiding the following implementation dates:

  • greater than 104 tons/year: July 1, 2014
  • greater than 52 tons/year: July 1, 2015
  • greater than 26 tons/year: July 1, 2016
  • greater than 18 tons/year: July 1, 2017
  • greater than any amount, with no distance exemption: July 1, 2020

All FSGs are required to source-separate food residuals from other solid waste, and either: (1) arrange for the transfer of food residuals to a location that manages food residuals following the prescribed food residual management hierarchy, or (2) manage food residuals on-site.

Generators are affected by the ban if they are located within 20 miles of a certified organics recycling facility, but only if the facility has available capacity and is willing to accept such source-separated organic material. According to ANR, the intent of this distance-to-services radius is to encourage the development and expansion of infrastructure and to allow time for haulers to modify their vehicles so that they might collect the material stream with the same convenience as they do trash.


Universal Recycling Law Requirements

Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law is much more comprehensive than a comparatively more simple disposal ban. According to ANR, the law:

  • Utilizes a set of phased in dates that help encourage and provide time for infrastructure to develop, partnerships to form, and hauling and collection programs to be developed and established
  • Eventually requires everyone to source separate organic materials from other waste and recyclables
  • Encourages generators to consider the adopted food recovery hierarchy when processing these materials
  • Creates convenience and consistency statewide for recycling and organics diversion

Universal Recycling Law Timeline
Before individual material streams (i.e. recyclables and organics residuals) are banned from landfill disposal, there are preceding requirements of solid waste facilities and haulers to provide services for the collection of these material streams. Statewide source-separation, collection of, and ban from, landfills will be phased-in as follows:

  • Mandated Recyclables by July 1, 2015
  • Leaf & Yard Debris by July 1, 2016
  • Food waste by July 1, 2020

Food Residual Management Hierarchy
Food residuals will be managed according to the following order of priority uses, listed in order of highest to lowest priority:

  • Reduction of the amount generated at the source of origin
  • Diversion for food consumption by humans
  • Diversion for agricultural use, including consumption by animals
  • Anaerobic digestion, composting, and land application
  • Energy recovery

waste diversion hunger food waste MSW

Enforcement of Banned Materials
The landfill disposal ban language in place for toxic and difficult to manage materials extends to mandated recyclables, leaf and yard debris, and food scraps under the UR law. As the landfill ban language indicates, there is no de minimis amount of landfill banned material permitted. The UR law indicates that no person shall knowingly dispose of the banned items in solid waste or landfills.

Trash Service Providers
Facilities and haulers could be required to provide their residential fee structures to ANR to encourage transparency.

Facilities offering trash services will be required to provide services for the following materials based on the following timeline:

  • Mandated Recyclables by July 1, 2014
  • Leaf & Yard Debris by July 1, 2015
  • Food Scraps by July 1, 2017
Trash haulers offering curbside services will be required to provide services for the following materials based on the following timeline:

  • Mandated Recyclables by July 1, 2015
  • Leaf & Yard Debris by July 1, 2016
  • Food Scraps by July 1, 2017
Residences will be required to source separate materials based on the following timeline:

  • Mandated Recyclables by July 1, 2015
  • Leaf & Yard Debris by July 1, 2016
  • Food Scraps by July 1, 2020


Collection Costs
According to ANR the requirements to offer collection of recyclables and organic residuals by haulers and facilities encourages residents to divert their materials with the clause that recycling must be offered with no separate line item charge. This has the effect of the hauler providing residential trash and recycling as a bundled service. ANR’s parallel collection factsheet provides additional guidance.

Recycling Collection Fees:

  • Haulers cannot charge a separate fee for residential mandated recyclables; these costs can be covered by adding them into the refuse collection fees
  • Solid waste collection facilities can charge commercial haulers for tipping of recyclables

Organics Collection Fees:

  • Haulers may charge for collection of leaf & yard debris or food scraps
  • Separated organics collection may cost significantly more than refuse collection (estimated to be $7-$9 more per month) depending on the method chosen (drop-off, curbside, backyard or on-site options) for managing the material
  • Solid waste collection facilities can charge commercial haulers for organics

Municipalities & Public Spaces
Since July 1, 2015, municipalities were required to:

  • Implement Variable Rate pricing (also referred to as “Unit-Based” or “Pay-As-You-Throw” pricing) of solid waste
  • Provide public collection containers for mandated recyclables in equal number, size and in close proximity to solid waste collection containers wherever they are provided, except in bathrooms.


Banned Materials

The following definitions are presented as they appear in the Universal Recycling law:

“Mandated recyclables” any of the following source separated materials: aluminum and steel cans; aluminum foil and aluminum pie plates; glass bottles and jars from foods and beverages; polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles or jugs; high density polyethylene (HDPE) plastic bottles and jugs; corrugated cardboard; white and colored paper; newspaper; magazine; catalogues; paper mail and envelopes; boxboard; and paper bags.

“Leaf and yard residual” means source separated, compostable untreated vegetative matter, including grass clipping, leaves, kraft paper bags, and brush, which is free from noncompostable materials. It does not include such materials as pre- and post consumer food residuals, food processing residuals, or soiled paper.

“Food residual” means source separated and uncontaminated material that is derived from processing or discarding of food and that is recyclable, in a manner consistent with section 6605k of this title (see the Food Residual Management Hierarchy). Food residual may include preconsumer and postconsumer food scraps. “Food residual” does not mean meat and meat-related products when the food residuals are composted by a resident on site.

“Wood waste” means trees, untreated wood, and other natural woody debris, including tree stumps, brush and limbs, root mats, and logs.

In 2019, an amendment to the UR law stipulates that the use of single-use plastic items is prohibited, effective July 1, 2020:

1. Effective July 1, 2020, this law prohibits retailers and food establishments from providing customers with the following single-use plastic items:

a. single-use plastic carryout bags at the point of sale (exempts bags used for prescription meds, dry cleaning, and produce bags/small items bags that are not at the point of sale),

i. single-use paper bags can be offered at the point of sale if the customer is charged a minimum of 10 cents per bag, which retailers keep. Smaller paper bags are exempt.

b. plastic straws (except that they can be given upon request of the customer),

c. plastic stirrers for beverages, and

d. expanded polystyrene (commonly called Styrofoam) food and beverage containers like cups and containers, meat/fish packaging, or food packaged out-of-state is exempt.

Anticipated Costs

ANR commissioned a thorough cost and implementation Systems Analysis of the expected impact that UR law will have on solid waste management in Vermont. The resulting 141 page report provides what will be, no doubt, helpful to any state implementing a disposal ban–even if it is nowhere near as comprehensive as Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law. Below are some of the key cost analysis findings:

Projected Financial Impact

  • Increases in system costs are expected to fall mainly on the users of the system, paid through the increase of an estimated $7 to $9 per month per household in fees for services.
  • Haulers will also need to invest in new equipment as they improve their capacity to provide new services.
  • Total capital investments are estimated at $42 – $45 million over the nine-year implementation period, or an average about $5 million per year.
  • ANR recommends establishing grant/loan program funded by increased per ton franchise fee (from $6 to $12) to raise an estimated $2.5 million per year

Key Areas for Cost Reduction
The following system changes reflect suggestions by the independent contractors that conducted the Systems Analysis:

  • Implementation of more on-farm organics diversion programs
  • Consolidation of waste districts and alliances
  • Reduction or elimination of the bottle bill handling fee
  • Consolidation of waste collection routes
  • Increase implementation of every-other-week collection of refuse & recycling


Key Features

Parallel Collection – The UR law requires statewide parallel collection of recyclables, refuse, leaf and yard residuals and food residuals at curbside and at all solid waste collection facilities.

Variable Rate Pricing – This refers to a fee structure that reflects disposal services that are charged on a per weight or per volume unit with price setting to incentivize recycling and composting. Also known as “Unit Based Pricing” or “Pay-as-You-Throw,” this structure has been in place in municipalities throughout the United States for decades. The intention of a PAYT structure is to encourage households and businesses to recycle instead of disposing of recyclables by making trash disposal more expensive, with the cost of recycling embedded in the cost of trash collection. Guidance materials for implementing Variable Rate Pricing can be found on ANR’s website.

Outreach and Educational Resources – According to ANR, since the adoption of the UR law, ANR’s Solid Waste Management Program has:

  • Redeveloped its public website and accessibility
  • Improved the availability of informational materials to targeted sectors
  • Developed and maintains a Twitter feed
  • Created standardized universal recycling symbols free for use
  • Is launching a Materials Management Map to connect generators of waste to facilities and organizations that are able to accept and utilize the beneficial value of recyclables, quality food for human consumption, and food scraps for animal feed, or composting. Release expected summer 2014.

These initial resources are beneficial to ANR, municipal solid waste management entities, facilities, haulers, composters, food rescue organizations, residents and the commercial sectors in meeting the phase-in mandates and bans in the Universal Recycling law. ANR recommends checking the website frequently for updates and additional resources.


Anticipated Benefits

Due to the gradual applicability of organic waste diversion to food scrap generators, as of 2016 it is still too early to see the full impact of Vermont’s food recovery policies. Nonetheless, in a March 2016 conversation with Vermont’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation, analysts reported that all towns have adopted ordinances requiring haulers and facilities to use “pay as you throw” pricing structures. This has resulted in some towns’ trash volumes being reduced by half (e.g. Vernon, Newark, Canaan), and some recycling rates increasing by almost 50% (e.g. Vernon). Notably, the largest solid waste district (by populace) in the state, Chittenden, has reported a 10 to 15% increase in food waste each year since Vermont’s UR passed in 2012.

The ban on disposal of food waste in landfills, which took effect on July 1, 2020, Vermont has seen a surge in composting activities. The Vermont DEC estimated that the number of food scrap haulers has tripled from 12 haulers in 2012, to 45 haulers in 2021. In addition, sales of home-composting supplies and equipment have skyrocketed, jumping from $7k to almost $20k in the past year alone. Experts expect to see the market for composting adjust prices accordingly to be lower than landfill fees, enabling more people to afford curbside collection service.

ANR further expects the UR law to:

  • Foster stronger community connections
  • Lower Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions (estimated 38% improvement)
  • Increase recycling (estimated increase from 33% to 60%) and reduces the need for landfills
  • Conserve resources and reduce energy consumption
  • Stimulate ‘green’ job creation
  • Support the local food system
  • Possibly prevent needing to build more landfills (VT currently has only one operating landfill)
  • Give ANR the ability to oversee facility & hauler residential rate structures, fostering transparency


Original post from July 11, 2014
Updated July 23, 2021

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Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt directs ILSR's Composting for Community project.