Compost: We all have to do it!

Elizabeth Polubinski, MRVPD 2020 Summer Intern

August 12th, 2020


The enactment of the Vermont Universal Recycling Law, or as it is more commonly known, the new law that requires every resident of Vermont to compost their food scraps, is an excellent step in helping the environment, but there has been some confusion around the specifics. Some members of the MRV have been composting for years, but many others have never considered this new method of food disposal. The veteran composters understand that composting is very important because it keeps food out of landfills and so prevents the release of detrimental greenhouse gases. Also, there is the added plus that the finished compost becomes fertile soil and is excellent for gardening. 

There are a couple options available for new-comers to composting. The most common is to have a home compost. Many people fear that this may attract bears, but when done properly bears rarely are an issue. Home composting often consists of a large bin, one which can be homemade or store bought, where food scraps are thrown. These scraps, which are full of nitrogen, tend to become quite smelly and could attract critters if left by themselves. However, when carbon material is added, which consists of dead leaves, hay, sawdust, or wood chips, and is layered with the food, the compost breaks down quickly and has little to no odor. Oxygen is the last component in efficient back-yard composting, which can be accomplished with either turning with a shovel, or with the aide of a tumbler bin. 

There are two common interrelated questions: What can be composted? What can be throw away? All food scraps can theoretically be composted, but Vermont’s law does NOT require that you compost meat, bones, fish and grease. Those four items can be thrown in the trash. If you turn your compost and observe that it gets very hot then these scraps may decompose, but for most of us trash is often easiest. 

The other option is finding a composting service. Most services only allow drop-off of residential food scraps at their facility, but a few are willing to pick up compost. In the MRV there are a couple services where you can drop food scraps, but while there are some pick-up services in Vermont there is yet to be one active in the valley. These services are larger and therefore able to take the meat, bones, fish and grease that many home composters throw away. Each facility is different though, so it is important to read any instructions the pages have for users. 

The important thing to remember about composting is that we all have to do it! Everyone is in the same boat and oftentimes your neighbors may be your best resource for composting advice. Just some of the tips I’ve learned include: not putting down a barrier between the compost bin and the ground so that small critters like mice can aerate the compost and help it decompose faster; keeping the food scraps in the freezer before taking out to the larger bin or drop-off facility so that it doesn’t make any odor in your kitchen; and putting grass clippings into the compost bin! There are many passionate composters and helpful resources in the MRV to support individuals in finding the composting method that works best for us. Three of the Mad River Valley towns have Conservation Commissions with local reps focusing on composting, and the Mad River Resource Management Alliance also has excellent resources for all MRV residents. In addition, the MRV Planning District website includes a Composting Resources page: