Vermont's Universal Recycling Law

Universal Recycling Law Timeline

In 2012, the Vermont Legislature unanimously passed the Universal Recycling Law (Act 148), which bans three major categories of materials from Vermonters' trash bins:

The law has been updated. Click these links to learn more: 

2018 Changes to Universal Recycling Law  

2019 Changes to Vermont Solid Waste Law

Read the 2019 Universal Recycling Status Report

Explore findings from the Universal Recycling Stakeholder Group

Key Documents

Universal Recycling Timeline
Universal Recycling Summary 
Universal Recycling, As Enacted Into Law in 2012 (Act No. 148, formerly H.485); was changed in 2018 and 2019

Why the Universal Recycling Law Passed Unanimously

Almost half of what Vermonters throw away could be diverted from landfills.

Out of all the waste Vermont generates annually, only about 35% gets sent somewhere other than a landfill to be recycled, composted, or reused. That's on par with the national average recycling rate of 35% (U.S. EPA), and when the Universal Recycling law was passed, it hadn't changed for more than 10 years. Why so low? The chart below shows what materials the average Vermonter puts in the trash everyday (by weight). If everyone recycled or composted, Vermont could cut its landfill waste by almost half.Pie chart of average Vermonter's daily trash - Paper is 20% - Food, organics 24% -  Plastic 13% - Metal 3% - Glass 2% - Other 38%

Meaningful alternatives exist for uneaten food and food scraps

When food scraps end up in landfills, they release powerful methane gas that contributes to climate change. What's the use of landfilling uneaten food when we can feed our neighbors, feed animals to produce local eggs and meat, or create rich soil and renewable energy products instead? The Universal Recycling Law outlines how Vermont businesses and residents should prioritize what happens to food waste to achieve greater good:

 Most to Least Preferred Food Recovery Hierarchy - Source Reduction, Food for People, Food for Animals, Composting and Anaerobic Digestion

Main Features of the Law

Parallel Collection: Waste haulers and drop-off centers that offer trash collection services are required to offer recycling and food scrap collection services in advance of each landfill ban going into effect. For example, waste haulers and facilities must offer food scrap collection by 2017, so that there is time for residents and businesses to find a preferred way to manage their food scraps by 2020.

Unit-Based Pricing or "Pay-As-You-Throw": All Vermont towns were required to pass an ordinance that requires waste haulers to bundle the costs of recycling and trash collection into one fee for residential customers only. This mechanism levels the playing field for residents across the State, so households do not have to make decisions about whether or not to recycle based on their wallets.

Public Space Recycling: Any trash container in a public space needs to be accompanied by a recycling receptacle as of July 2015, making recycling more convenient in more locations. Public spaces include city streets, parks, municipal offices, schools, and more; bathrooms are exempt.

Phased-In Food Scrap Ban: Businesses and institutions that produce large amounts of food waste--such as supermarkets, college campuses, and restaurants--are required to comply with the landfill ban on food scraps earlier than residents, if they are located within 20 road miles of a composting facility that willingly accepts food scraps. This phased-in approach is designed to create demand for food scrap collection, and support investments in new food scrap collection infrastructure. See the Universal Recycling Timeline for details.

Universal Recycling Downloads: free download of symbols, bin signs for recycling, food scraps, and trash

Universal Recycling Symbols

More than a law. It's rethinking the future.

What if we could sustain regional markets that transform used office paper, cardboard, mail, envelopes, and magazines into new printing paper? Save colossal amounts of energy by placing aluminum cans and foil in the recycling bin instead of the trash? If everyone in Vermont recycles just six things, all the time, we can achieve a forty percent recycling rate---keeping 100,000 tons of valuable material from being dumped.
Learn more about how to recycle.

What if we could feed hungry Vermonters with surplus fresh foods from retailers and restaurants that can't be used, and help those businesses save money in the process? When your food is about to spoil, what if you thought about creating a rich soil amendment for your garden, supporting local egg production, or better yet...powering clean, renewable energy machines on Vermont dairy farms? This is the future of our uneaten good food and the kitchen scraps that get left behind. If everyone in Vermont composted or had their food waste collected, we can achieve a sixty percent recycling rate---and support our local food system and hungry neighbors.
Learn more about where your food scraps can go.

Agency of Natural Resources
Department of Environmental Conservation
Waste Management and Prevention Division

Davis Building - 1st Floor
One National Life Drive
Montpelier, VT 05620-3704