What Are "Organic" Materials?
"Organics", or organic materials, are any plant or animal materials or byproducts which will decompose into soil. Food scraps like carrot tops, egg shells, coffee grounds, and bread crusts—as well as leaves, grass and wood—are all organic materials. Paper napkins and paper towels are made from wood pulp and will also decompose into soil.
Food scraps make up nearly 1/3 of the total waste a typical Vermont family generates at home. At businesses or institutions that serve food---like local restaurants or school cafeterias---food scraps often comprise more than half of total waste produced. Food scraps and leaf and yard wastes represent valuable resources that can be re-used in many products such as; compost, garden mulch and animal bedding.
What can I do with my food scraps & leaf/yard debris? There are options.
There is not one right way to manage your food scraps and leaf/yard debris. Consider which answer best describes your situation, then explore the matching options:
A. Composting At Home or On-Site
Compost in the backyard or on-site at your workplace/school to make a soil amendment for your garden. A backyard leaf and grass pile is an age-old tradition. “Pile it and forget it” is just another name for a passive compost pile.
Food scraps mixed with dried leaves, grass, and chipped wood make great additions to your compost pile, and help speed decomposition and reduce odors by maintaining a good carbon to nitrogen ratio in your pile. A mix of 3 parts dried leaves/grass/wood chips to every 1 part food scraps is a good target. See the composting resources at the bottom of this page for guidance on setting up an on-site or home composting process.
B. Feeding Animals
Spent brewery grain and whey can often be fed to animals. Some food scraps are fed to chickens.
Agency of Agriculture regulations prohibit feeding food scraps that have touched meat or fish (including organs, bones, and juices) to pigs. These regulations do not apply to feeding personal food scraps to pigs that are for personal consumption. Explore the Agency of Agriculture's Feeding Food Scraps to Pigs handout and Guidance on Feeding Food Scraps to Pigs to learn more.
If you are not able or interested in managing organic materials at home or on-site, you still have options:
- Self-haul: Drive it yourself to a drop-off location such as a transfer station, stump dump (for leaf and yard debris only), compost facility or anaerobic digestion facility. To find an organics management facility located near you refer to our Materials Management Map, or alternatively you can contact your local Waste Management District to ask about what services are available in your region.
- Curbside pick-up at your location: Contact a licensed hauler that services your area and ask about their leaf and yard debris and food scrap hauling services. Solid waste haulers will have to provide leaf and yard waste collection after July 1, 2016 unless local ordinances provide alternative convenient access to leaf and yard waste disposal, so call and ask! After July 1, 2018, trash haulers must offer food scrap collection.
Remember! Don’t put grass, hay or plants treated with pesticides or herbicides in your compost bin or food scrap container. Both can harm the beneficial insects, bacteria, and fungi that do the work to turn dead vegetative material into compost. Talk with your drop-off facility about what materials they will accept if you have pesticide or herbicide treated materials. You may also consider managing these materials at home in a separate pile.
What Happens to the Organic Materials I've Separated?
Congratulations, you've separated your organic materials from your trash and dropped them off at a local facility or contracted a solid waste hauler to conveniently pick them up at your location. What happens to those materials now? Chances are the collected organic materials will either go to an anaerobic digestion facility or to a composting facility to be re-used once more.
Some Vermont anaerobic digestion facilities are now incorporating food scraps into their daily recipes. Existing anaerobic digestion facilities serve primarily manure management purposes, but they provide additional benefits such as; generation of electricity and/or heat and solid "digestate" - which are tough to break-down or inorganic materials that pass through digestion intact - which can be used as animal bedding or added to a compost pile and used as a soil amendment.
Another way to "re-use" separated organic materials is to use them to build the soil. A carefully managed composting process harnesses the power of millions of bacteria and fungi to turn your pineapple peelings and corn cobs into a valuable soil amendment. The benefits of compost don't stop there, compost has many uses beyond the vegetable garden too, it can be used in soil building/erosion stabilization applications and can even be used as a stormwater filtration system to clarify rainwater run-off.