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National Restaurant Association - Vermont recycling law could affect future sustainability laws

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Vermont recycling law could affect future sustainability laws

A law just passed in Vermont requiring all businesses, including restaurants, to recycle all waste and separate out food and other organic material for composting by the year 2020 could affect future legislation in the sustainability space, environmental experts say.

Gov. Pete Shumlin signed the legislation into law June 7 saying, "Moving towards universal recycling will advance Vermont into the next generation of solid waste management and keep more waste out of our landfills."

The law, which will be enacted in phases, will require waste haulers to collect everything from yard waste to commercial food waste, and will prohibit the disposal of recyclable and compostable materials in landfills. It also will require that recycling containers be provided in equal number to trash cans in public buildings.

Enacting the law over time will ensure its success on a number of levels, said Michael Virga, executive director of the U.S. Composting Council.

"The law takes effect this year, but will be phased in so there will be enough time to go through the process of building infrastructure and finding waste haulers to keep [food] waste from going to the landfills," he said. "Because of this [the state] will be able to develop a process, have sources to collect organics down the road.

"It's pretty exciting," he continued. "Because they are taking several years to build the infrastructure, that's how they'll get things to really take off."

He added that the new law would provide opportunities for the local restaurant industry as well.

"Now is the time for the restaurant community to get organized," he said. "[Operators] can get together and form a coalition to figure out what needs to be done to ensure that their organics will be collected and sent to a compost facility and not a landfill."

But Vicky Tebbetts, senior vice president of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said compliance with the new law would be complicated because the state lacks the infrastructure needed to do so.

"The law would require restaurants to either compost on site or send their organic waste to any willing facility within a 20-mile radius," she said. "They've decided to control landfill waste by creating a law requring infrastructure where there is little existing at this time. What they're trying to do is inspire infrastructure to be built, but that has its problems in and of itself. We know there's been tremendous trouble with rodents and other animals at some composting facilities that do exist."

Tebbetts noted that "because of the long phase-in approach being used, the Vermont Chamber of Commerce will work with our members and the state to identify ways in which we can all work together to encourage sound waste management in an efficient and effective manner, and encourage compliance with the law."

Virga, who said the USCC assisted in the development of the language used in the Vermont bill, indicated that the law, the first of its kind in the United States, is a harbinger of things to come.

"We are going to see more and more states looking into and enacting bans of their own," he said. "The same thing is happening in Massachusetts right now. They're looking at similar legislation and it likely will happen there, too."

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