Significant progress has been made since the development of modern recycling programs in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Most in our community have access to curbside recycling services and we’re rarely more than a few steps away from a recycling bin, even in public places. Thanks to streamlined all-in-one recycling services offered by the Addison County Solid Waste Management District which save us from having to sort our recyclables, it’s safe to say that recycling is pretty darned convenient these days. So convenient, in fact, that we might have forgotten about those other two “R’s.” We all know that recycling is the right thing to do, but perhaps we could use a reminder that the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.
Recycling an item definitely beats sending it to the landfill, but it still takes a significant amount of energy to recycle an item and transform it into something “new.” As a result, reduction and reuse are the most effective ways you can save natural resources, protect the environment and save money.
The Benefits of Reducing & Reusing:
Prevent pollution caused by reducing the need to harvest new raw materials.
Reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change.
Reduce the amount of waste that will need to be recycled or sent to landfills and incinerators.
Allow products to be used to their fullest extent.
Ideas to Help You Reduce & Reuse
Buy used and refurbished when possible. You can find everything from clothes to electronics to building materials at specialized reuse centers, architectural salvage yards, and consignment shops. Often, used items are less expensive and just as good as new. Middlebury has several wonderful thrift stores and if you’re in Burlington, be sure to check out ReSOURCE.
Look for products that use less packaging. When manufacturers make their products with less packaging, they use less energy and fewer raw materials. This reduces waste and costs. These extra savings are often passed along to the consumer.
Buy in bulk. When you bring your own containers to buy bulk items, you save packaging waste and you can also save money. At the Co-op, you can bring your own container to buy foods such as flour, grains, maple syrup, and honey in the Bulk department; soaps, lotion, and bath salts in the Wellness department; on-tap beverages such as kombucha, coffee, and tea; and Deli items from the salad bar or hot bar.
Buy items that are reusable rather than disposable and incorporate reusable items into your daily routines. For example, you can bring your own silverware and coffee mug to work and bring your own shopping bags to the store.
Maintain and repair products, clothing, tires, and appliances, so that they won’t have to be disposed of and replaced as frequently. Think quality over quantity when purchasing these kinds of items.
Borrow, rent, or share items that are used infrequently, such as party decorations, tools or furniture. Front Porch Forum is a handy resource.
Think twice before discarding an item. Consider alternative uses. The mesh bag your citrus came in can be reused for future produce purchases and that empty two-liter bottle can make a fun hanging planter.
Plan ahead.Planning your weekly meals in advance, utilizing leftovers, and shopping the refrigerator first are great ways to reduce food waste. For more tips on reducing food waste, click here.
Donate gently used items whenever possible. You can drop them off at a thrift store, or consignment shop, or you can post them to Front Porch Forum. Let your trash be someone else’s treasure!
Have you heard about Salvation Farms? They are a Morrisville-based not-for-profit organization driven by a mission to build increased resilience in Vermont’s food system through agricultural surplus management. Their founders recognized that Vermont has a tremendous amount of food that is currently available but underutilized. In fact, a 2016 study revealed that more than 14 million pounds of wholesome vegetables and berries grown in Vermont go uneaten each year. According to Salvation Farms Director, Theresa Snow, farms are producing in abundance but we have become so scrupulous about the food we send to market that much is being wasted through all parts of the supply chain from the farms, to the wholesalers, distributors, packhouses, and retail sites.
Additionally, Vermont has a great need to feed many of our state’s most vulnerable populations. An estimated 70,000 – 80,000 Vermonters live in food insecure households, meaning they don’t have regular access to nutritious food. According to Snow, we have more than enough food available but lack the infrastructure to make sure it’s processed and distributed equitably. It became clear that an entity was needed to help capture and manage the surplus bounty and get it to the people in our community who need it most.
Salvation Farms was born in 2004 as a grassroots community-based gleaning project, operating as a pilot program for several years. The project grew each year in their scope and impact, gleaning millions of pounds of produce along the way. They continued to hone their successful gleaning model and build relationships that would eventually allow them to stand on their own legs as a federally-recognized non-profit organization in 2012. In September of 2016, they launched Vermont’s first surplus crop food hub and a workforce development program in a commercial kitchen space located in Winooski, VT. Staff members from our Co-op recently had the opportunity to tour this new facility and gain a first-hand account of the important work being done by Salvation Farms.
The new facility contains the equipment, staffing, and infrastructure to achieve two things:
Move fruits and veggies that otherwise wouldn’t be eaten to Vermont’s food shelves and meal programs
Offer a 4-month job training program that would provide trainees with work-readiness skills and valuable certifications that would aid them in securing long-term employment
Food loss on Vermont vegetable and berry farms totals 14.3 million pounds per year. Of this, 32% is never harvested and the remaining 68% is harvested but fails to make it to market. The produce left in the field is passed over due to blemishes, lack of labor, lack of storage space, or lack of time. The food that is harvested without making it to market is lost along the supply chain for various reasons including blemishes, lack of uniformity in size or appearance, lack of market demand, and spoilage. While loss is inevitable on farms given the many challenges presented by mother nature, loss on this scale can certainly be avoided.
Salvation Farms now has the capacity to capture this surplus either through gleaning efforts or other means and have it delivered to their Winooski facility, thanks to transportation provided by Black River Produce. Once it arrives at the food hub, the trainees work to wash, sort, process and repackage the produce. Some is in good enough shape to be repackaged and redistributed as fresh product, while other produce must move through the kitchen facility where it is chopped, peeled, frozen, and packaged for distribution. The finished product is then picked back up by the Black River Produce trucks and delivered to various budget-restricted local organizations who serve vulnerable populations.
Trainees at the Hub commit to a 4-month stint where they not only clean and pack Vermont produce, but also engage in interactive classroom trainings and study sessions where they learn more about food waste and the greater food system. They leave the program with industry-recognized certifications from OSHA and ServSafe, plus 1st aid and CPR training. These job readiness skills and credentials help instill a sense of pride and purpose while preparing the trainee for a more permanent role in the workforce.
Salvation Farms funds all of this remarkable work by piecing together grants and donations from various businesses and individuals. If you’d like to donate or volunteer to help make their vision and mission possible, please visit the Salvation Farms web page. To register to become a gleaner, visit the Vermont Gleaning Collective web page.
According to Snow, “People make change possible. When addressing ills within systems we cannot take a narrow road to focus on addressing a symptom of those ills whether it is an issue like food loss or an issue like nutritional security. People – who engage in and reinforce large societal systems, like the food system – must play an informed part of the system. This creates true change and impacts the symptoms that make our society ache.”
Act 148, the Universal Recycling Law, marks the most significant change to Vermont’s solid waste system in recent history. This law includes a focus on reducing food waste, with the goal of all Vermont businesses, organizations, and citizens eliminating food from the waste stream by 2020. The program is being phased in gradually and is already experiencing impressive results, diverting 800 tons of food from Vermont’s landfills last year, representing a 40% increase in food rescue over the previous year! The impressive success of Vermont’s new law has garnered attention from the EPA and interest from neighboring states looking to enact similar legislation.
Why is the law needed?
Voluntary waste diversion rates in Vermont have stagnated over the past ten years and a significant portion of the current waste stream is comprised of items that could otherwise be recycled, diverted, and put to better use. Landfill space in Vermont is limited and one of the two major landfills in our state is nearing its capacity. If all recoverable materials were recycled, composted, or rescued, Vermont could cut its landfill waste by more than half!
Recyclable materials, food scraps, and leaf & yard debris are all valuable resources that should not be thrown away. When they are landfilled, these materials contribute significantly to climate change by producing greenhouse gas emissions. If food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases—surpassed only by China and the United States! Food loss and waste generates more than four times the annual greenhouse gas emissions of aviation and is comparable to emissions from road transport. Aside from greenhouse gas emissions from the decomposing food waste, itself, one must consider the wastes of water and resources that it took to produce that food. The later a food product is lost along the chain, the greater the environmental consequences due to the environmental costs incurred during processing, transport, storage and cooking.
This law is also needed to help combat food insecurity. According to a 2012-2014 consensus, 13% of all Vermont households are food insecure. This figure includes more than 20,000 Vermont children. Of the estimated 133 billion pounds of food that goes to waste every year, much of it is perfectly edible and nutritious. When one considers that over 40% of all food produced eventually finds its way to the landfill, it becomes clear that we don’t necessarily have a food availability problem, we have a food equity problem. One way to mitigate food insecurity at the community level is through food rescue, which redirects surplus food from the waste stream to people in need of food.
What exactly does the Universal Recycling Law do?
Act 148 aims to improve the capture and diversion rates for food scraps, recyclables, and leaf & yard debris. Here is the summary of how the law will work:
Imposes a ban on disposal of certain solid waste from landfills including recyclables by July of 2015, leaf and yard debris by July of 2016, and food scraps by 2020. The diversion of food scraps will take place in phases, beginning with the largest food scrap generators (those producing more than 104 tons/year) in 2014 and working toward implementation at the household level by 2020. Click here for specifics on the timeline.
Requires parallel collection at facilities and at curbside. This means that facility owners that offer trash collection must also offer collection of recyclables, leaf & year debris, and food scraps. Haulers must offer services for collecting and managing these items. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will oversee facility and hauler residential rate structures to ensure that rates are transparent to customers.
Provides incentives to reduce waste by requiring municipalities to implement variable rate pricing (aka Pay As You Throw) for materials collected from residential customers based on volume or weight. Haulers are also required to utilize variable rate pricing structures in accordance with the specific ordinances and rules implemented by municipal entities (solid waste districts, towns, town groups, and alliances).
Provides more recycling options by requiring access to recycling containers anywhere that trash cans are located (excluding bathrooms) in all public buildings and publically-owned land.
Includes a food recovery hierarchy. This represents most interesting and exciting aspect of this new law. It helps us recognize that certain methods of food recovery are more impactful than others and encourages us to think about capturing and redistributing those nutrients in a way that best utilizes their value. Here’s what it looks like:
Of course, one could simply choose to place their food scraps in a bin for collection with their recyclables and pay for the service of having it collected. Or, one could choose to drop by the district transfer station, pick up a compost bin, and begin composting food scraps at home. But, the food recovery hierarchy encourages us to think up the pyramid by reducing food waste at its source or rescuing and redistributing food to the people and animals that need it.
Following the guidelines of the Universal Recycling Law and examining the Food Rescue Pyramid affords new opportunities to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money, and combat community food insecurity by redirecting unwanted food to those who need it most.
We can set new goals to reduce waste at the source by doing the following:
Shop with a meal plan for the week that allows us to avoid over-purchasing and better utilize leftovers. Shop in your refrigerator first! Assess what you have on hand and build meals around those items that need to be used.
Designate a prominent, visible place in your refrigerator for items that need to be consumed first.
Choose to embrace inglorious fruits and veggies that have cosmetic flaws, but are otherwise completely delicious and nutritious.
Store leftovers in clear containers, thus avoiding the out of sight, out of mind problem that leads to moldy, unidentifiable leftovers at the back of the fridge.
Understand that “sell-by” or “use-by” dates often have little correlation to food safety. Even if the date expires during home storage, a product should be safe, wholesome, and delicious if handled properly. Let your senses be your guide. Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics compost it. Otherwise, enjoy it!
Take empty containers to gatherings to capture leftovers. Prepared food cannot be donated to food shelves, so the excess is often wastefully discarded. Bring a container to your next gathering and encourage others to do the same!
Make “tops & tails broth” by collecting all the tops, tails, skins, and peels of the veggies you prep throughout the week. Toss them in a pot of water on a weekend day, along with any leftover meat bones and/or cheese rinds from the week. Simmer for an hour or two, then strain and compost the skins, peels, rinds, and bones. You’ll be left with a fantastic broth which can be turned into a fabulous meal or frozen for use another day.
Have produce that’s past its prime? It may still be fine for cooking. Think soups, casseroles, stir-fries, sauces, baked goods, pancakes or smoothies.
Stale bread can be used to make croutons or processed into bread crumbs for a recipe. Stale cookies can be crushed and made into a delicious pie crust.
When produce, soups, bread, and similar items are reaching their prime, consider freezing them.
When you can’t eliminate food waste at the source, consider donating food to one of your two local food shelves, HOPE & CVOEO, or to a similar charitable organization. It’s a good idea to contact them first to be sure the items you wish to donate are items they are able to receive and distribute. Worried about liability? A Good Samaritan Law exists to help protect those who are contributing free food in good faith to charitable organizations.
If your excess food can’t go to the food shelf, consider the farmers in your area. Do you know anyone with chickens, pigs, or livestock? They might be thrilled to receive your glut of garden zucchini and your stale loaves of bread! Here at the Co-op, we donate all post-consumer food scraps to area farmers for use as animal feed and there is no shortage of demand for those bags of healthy scraps!
At the end of the day, it’s important to consider that approximately 40-50% of food waste and 51-63% of seafood waste in the US occurs at the consumer (household) level. We can do so much better! Whether we’re eliminating food waste through better planning and use of available food, donating food, or learning to compost food, we all have better options that don’t involve throwing food into the garbage. As your household prepares for the rollout of Act 148 at the household level, here are a handful of great resources: