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SCRAPBOOK

Real-Life Examples of the Various Ways Vermonters Manage Food Scraps

Individuals

Emmanuelle adding food scraps to the tumbler
Emmanuelle adds food scraps to the tumbler

If you love to garden and want to create lots of compost, you’ll want to meet Emmanuelle Soumeilhan! Emmanuelle learned how to compost “from scratch” and feels like she has been composting forever. Although she did not compost while growing up in her native France, she has clearly made up for lost time.

Reasons to Compost

“Composting at home makes sense because I garden. Growing food, I realized immediately that I needed a good source of Nitrogen and other minerals, and it’s expensive to buy compost,” says Emmanuelle. “I like making something that I can use out of waste. Plus, my garbage is never full.”

Different Systems for Different Needs

Emmanuelle is a compost connoisseur and has many different systems going at once to meet different needs. These systems include an insulated compost tumbler, bokashi composter, Green Cone (solar digester), and several different backyard piles.

Bowl of food scraps
Food scrap bowl

It starts in the Kitchen

Emmanuelle doesn’t like having lots of food scraps in her kitchen so she collects them in a small bowl and empties it often. She puts food scraps in her compost tumbler year-round and in the winter, she supplements the process with her bokashi system. Bokashi is a method of indoor composting using fermentation and is a much faster process than backyard composting.

Then moves outside (mostly)

Inside the composter
Food scraps in the tumbler

She keeps the compost tumbler outside in the warmer months, but in the winter, Emmanuelle moves it into her unheated garage to make adding her food scraps easier. The added warmth also helps speed up the composting process.

The Green Cone is for animal waste, both cat and dog, and anything else that might be harder to manage in Emmanuelle’s other systems. She installed it in her flower garden so she’s not worried about what type of organic waste she puts in it since she’s not growing food there.

Emmanuelle doesn’t want weed seeds in her compost so she keeps a very large pile of grass clippings and puts any weeds deep in the middle where the generated heat will kill any seeds. She also uses metal cans with drilled holes to dry out and kill weeds. She has piles of horse manure and wood chips, both sourced from neighbors, that she can mix in to get her compost recipe right, trying to preserve as much Nitrogen in the compost as possible. Finally, she spreads the finished compost on her garden, boosting its fertility and the flowers and vegetables that her family enjoys as a result.

Flowers to be planted with compost
Flowers await planting
Emmanuelle in the garden
In the garden with Green Cone

 

How long have you been composting at home? 

  • We started composting about 20 years ago, when we bought our first house (with a yard), after years of living in apartments and townhouses. My family didn’t compost growing up, but I also don’t remember having a lot of leftovers or food waste in a house with 8 kids! 

Why did you start composting? 

Carrot peels for the compost bin
Carrot shavings headed for the paper bag
  • I definitely started composting for environmental reasons. I didn’t want to put food and yard waste to decompose inside of a plastic bag! 
  • My family is supportive, although it is really my thing. I do most of the cooking, and I collect most of the scraps. The trip to the compost bin isn’t that much trouble, but I definitely don’t do it every day.

What's your system for collecting food scraps?

  • I keep a small compost container in the kitchen, with a carbon filter.  If I’m doing a lot of cooking, I will use a paper bag and take it to the composter when it’s full, dumping it in, bag and all.
  • I try to take it down to the composter every day, although when I forget it on the deck, we sometimes get critters – especially in the summer, so I really try to make it a daily habit.
Soil Saver in yard
Soil Saver in the backyard

How is your compost system set up? 

  • We have a black plastic “soil saver” bin that we inherited from the previous homeowner when we moved here about 15 years ago.  The one we left behind at our old house was nicer, but this one works!
  • I am not a composting nerd – I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the recipe or how to get the most out of it.  I don’t turn it.  I literally just dump my scraps in there and Nature does the work. I do add the brown paper bags and some dry grass or leaves because I think they help with mitigating any smell. 

Do you compost through the winter? 

  • We do compost through the winter. I go down there less often and the materials decompose a lot slower! At this point (May) it is pretty full with yard/garden clippings and food scraps. In the summer, I put so much more food and yard waste in and it “cooks” down so that it is always less than ½ full.

Have you had any problems? 

  • We haven’t really had any problems except a few critters getting to the compost on our deck when I forget to take it down to the shed.

Do you use your finished compost on your yard or compost just as a way to manage food scraps?

  • I don’t use the finished compost as much as I should. I will say that I have filled that thing hundreds of times over the
    Inside the composter
    Inside the bin
    years without taking anything out.

What do you like about composting?

  • Composting aligns with my values and environmental concerns. It’s easy and I like minimizing our trash. It also makes me far more conscious of my purchasing choices around packaging since that’s pretty much all that goes into our trash.

What would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant to start composting?

  • I am always surprised when people tell me that they don’t compost! It is such an easy way to make a huge impact.

Anything else you want to share?

  • I think some people are concerned about the cost or the smell or the effort – and I would say that I don’t have issues with any of those things.  Of course, you can spend the money on a “nice” compost bin but you can also make one from chicken wire!  We don’t have any issue with the smell – even when it’s full. Plus, it’s the right thing to do.

 

Separating Food Scraps from the Trash – A New Habit

Putting food scraps in the bucket
Adding coffee grounds to the kitchen bucket

Jessica has been separating her food scraps from the trash for about a year. She learned about composting when she lived in Chicago and had friends who composted in their backyards, but she lived in a condo and had no outdoor space of her own.

When she moved to Vermont, a local friend who was passionate about waste reduction told her about food scrap drop-off and got her interested in learning more. Jessica went to recycling and compost workshops, which she highly recommends and thinks should be mandatory for all Vermonters, and then started bringing her food scraps to a compost facility.

Reducing her Carbon Footprint and Trash at the Same Time

Jessica is always looking for ways to reduce her carbon footprint. She has felt guilty about her impact on climate change and feels good about donating her food scraps so they’re used to make compost instead of creating methane in a landfill. Plus, then she doesn’t have to deal with them!

In the end, separating her food scraps had a big impact on reducing her trash. She used to fill up a kitchen trash bag once a week, now it’s only once a month which means she is definitely paying less for trash now.

Collecting and Dropping Off Food Scraps

Food scrap drop-off at VT Compost Company
Food Scrap Drop-Off Site

Jessica uses a small bucket that she got for free at a composting workshop to collect her food scraps in the kitchen. A friend gave her a 5-gallon bucket that she keeps on her balcony and empties the kitchen bucket into it until it’s full.

“I thought it would be so disgusting but it’s really not bad. It doesn’t smell up my place. I rinse out both buckets and used to occasionally add baking soda to keep down odor but that was only when I had to keep the big bucket inside my apartment. Now that I have a balcony and can keep it out there, it’s not an issue. I go to Vermont Compost company every 3 or 4 weeks, and there’s no charge to drop off food scraps. It’s close to my home and easy because I can go anytime, there are no hours. It’s a drive-up site where there are three totes for dropping off food scraps.”

Reducing Food Waste

Since moving to Vermont, Jessica has become more conscientious about waste and attributes that to being around others who care very much. She has been inspired to try to use all of her perishable food before it goes bad. Once she was telling a friend about a curry she likes to make and mentioned that it uses half a can of coconut milk. Her friend asked what she did with the other half of the can and she didn’t have an answer, meaning it probably languished in the back of her fridge until it had to be thrown out. Now she plans ahead and makes a soup with the remaining coconut milk.

What would you say to encourage someone to start separating food scraps from the trash?

“If you’re not actually composting and just donating food scraps, there’s no additional time burden. It reduces the smell of your trash and you don’t have to take out trash as much. You’re contributing to a better society. There’s really no downside.”

“One tip – almost everything in the produce section of the grocery has a sticker on it. Don’t forget to take off the sticker! It’s best if you remove it as soon as you come home from store. And another benefit of using a drop-off site is that you can put bones and oils and everything in your food scrap bucket.”

Dumping food scraps into a larger bucket
...dumped into larger 5-gallon bucket on deck.
Kitchen compost bucket
Kitchen compost bucket...
Bucket with scraps
...full of scraps...

 

Benton's Food Scrap Collector
Kitchen collector with PLU stickers

How long have you been separating your food scraps from the trash? 

I have been doing this on my own for about one and a half years. My family also composted for a couple years when I was in middle and elementary school.

Why did you start keeping food scraps out of the trash? If you live with other people, do they help?

I have known since taking environmental geography classes in college, that it is unnecessary to trash food scraps as they can be made into soil and compost. My roommate is very enthusiastic about composting, more so than myself sometimes. My partner has never composted so she is getting used to composting, and I am helping teach her about it. They do help, but I am primarily taking care of drop-off.

Food scraps in the freezer
Veggie trimmings in the freezer for stock

Has separating your food scraps made you notice anything about your eating or cooking habits? Have you made any changes as a result?

Yes! I use much more of the vegetable or fruit when I am cooking or eating it. I try to buy things which are not in plastic from the store. I also save veggie trimmings in the freezer to make veggie stock once or twice a month.

Please explain your system for collecting food scraps.

I use a countertop tote lined with a paper bag or newspaper. I used to take it to the Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD) transfer station weekly but now it is more like monthly or bi-weekly because of Covid. I take overflow that I am unable to drop-off in a sealed 5-gallon bucket that the transfer station supplied to me for free.

Where do you bring your food scraps? ACSWMD transfer station in Middlebury

Do you do anything differently in the winter? Nothing is different because I don't compost at home.

Have you had any problems? 

5-gallon tote for storage
5-gallon bucket nestled with sofa

The frequency I was able to drop-off was interrupted by Covid so I got the 5-gallon bucket to have more storage capacity.

What do you like about diverting your food scraps or why are you still doing it?

I feel good knowing that I am diverting waste from the landfill, also I am complying with the new law.

What would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant to start separating their food scraps from the trash?

Get the right equipment, and it is easy. Take the path of least resistance to do it first (such as dropping at transfer station) then slowly make it more complex (start your own compost pile).

 

How long have you been separating your food scraps from the trash?Rachel putting scraps in the bucket

I started last year. Growing up my family had a home compost pile for the family garden.

Why did you start separating food scraps? If you live with other people, do they help?

Putting food scraps in the trash makes me so sad. It made me feel extremely guilty twice over for both the waste of food and impact on the environment. Taking the step to compost feels like a productive choice towards reducing waste and my impact. I used to live with roommates that weren’t really understanding why we should take this extra step however my current roommates are 100% behind composting now and help pay for the curbside pickup.

Have you made any changes to your eating or cooking habits since separating your food scraps ?

I noticed at the beginning of starting the compost pickup that I had certain vegetables that I always bought but would almost always go bad and end up in the compost bucket. I started to change what I buy so I don’t waste my money or food.

Rachel's Kitchen Bucket
Bucket on kitchen duty...

What's your system for collecting food scraps?

I use a curbside pick-up service based in the Chittenden county area. The composting company is approachable, has cost effective options for everyone, and direct payment so I have one less thing to remember every month. They provided me with a 5-gallon bucket with a lid that I fill up with food and have picked up from my curb on a bi-weekly basis. I usually keep the bucket in the kitchen and haven’t had an issue with smell. After pick up, I wash the bucket out before adding the next round of food waste.

Do you separate your food scraps through the winter? I use the same curbside service through winter.

Have you had any problems? I had some issues with a roommate in the past but have moved from that house and now have no issue.

What do you like about diverting your food scraps?

I know that by separating food scraps I am reducing my footprint on the environment. It has also cut down on the amount of trash. I never realized how much of my trash was made up of food and how smelly it made the trash. Now my trash is cut in half, doesn’t need to be taken out as often, and has cut down on smell.

How would you encourage someone who is hesitant to start separating their food scraps from the trash?

Rachel's Curbside Bucket
...and awaiting pickup.

Rachel by the curbI’d say that it can be very easy and cost effective. Just like you place recycling in a different bin you can place food scraps into a compost bucket. And when you look into the impact of food scraps on landfills you will feel less guilty every time you put peelings in the bucket or throw that forgotten, rotten cucumber into the compost. Once you start you may notice some real behavior changes and know that you are taking steps towards reducing your environmental footprint.

Did you compost growing up?

We always had a garden to bury stinky food scraps as well as a Labrador retriever and chickens to eat most meal left-overs. Not true composting, I guess.

Why did you start composting?

Years ago, we were given an upright composter as a gift. I found it difficult to use by itself, and so for years it didn’t get used much. Later, I heard of all the problems people composting were having with bears and so I wanted to learn more about how composting could be done without attracting bears and other wildlife. I attended a composting workshop and then purchased a sturdy tumbler which I now use in conjunction with the upright composter in the winter months as well as still burying (“trench composting”) the smelliest items in my garden.  My family deposits vegetable scraps, some fruit peelings, as well as coffee grounds and eggshells in the small compost container in our kitchen and I take it from there. 

What’s your system for collecting food scraps?

We place our food scraps in a 2-gallon metal container which has a charcoal filter in the lid. This container is kept in the kitchen near the sink. All large items are sliced up into smaller pieces and the inorganic stickers taken off apple and banana skins. The can ends up getting emptied pretty frequently, probably every three days or so because I place dry material such as wood shavings in the bottom third of the container after each time I empty it and before it comes back into the kitchen.

How is your compost system set up?

I am pretty happy with my sturdy plastic tumbler.  No animals can get in it and it is easy to mix and turn over by simply giving it a push. I wasn’t able to get it up to the temperatures recommended for true composting and finally settled for “cold” composting where the material is well-mixed and worked into my garden in buried trenches that get thoroughly mixed with the soil when I rototill the garden each spring.

Do you compost through the winter? If so, do you do anything differently?

When the soil in my garden is too frozen for digging, I leave my tumbler alone once it is full.  The rest of the winter I place kitchen scraps in the upright plastic composter. It is large enough that it can contain a winter’s worth of scraps along with mixed-in dry matter. In the spring, I mix it well and then it all gets emptied into trenches in the garden before I do the rototilling. I don’t use the upright plastic composter anytime after the bears are out of hibernation as it would be too easy for a bear to pull it apart.

Have you had any problems? If so, what do you do to fix them?

Composting tumbler behind electric fence
Composting tumbler and beehive behind solar-powered electric fence

I have had no problems, really, once I realized I didn’t have to do “hot” composting, but that “cold” composting would work fine for my needs. My compost doesn’t smell any that I can tell, and it does not attract wildlife. To ensure of this, I place the tumbler inside the electric fence I already have for protecting my beehives from bears. My hard-plastic tumbler may have been “bear-proof” on its own, but since I already had an electric fence for my bees I keep my tumbler safely within the fenced area.

Do you use your finished compost on your yard or compost just as a way to manage food scraps?

The finished compost goes into the vegetable garden and has become an important component of my garden management.

What do you like about composting?

I like the fact that we can make use of our food waste and that none of it has to end up in the landfill.  There is an initial cost to getting set up, but I take satisfaction in having an organic waste disposal system that works. I have always taken pride in living lightly on the land and this is one more way of doing that.

What would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant to start composting?

Don’t start unless you plan to do it right. It certainly isn’t rocket science, but it is easy to do it wrong without some guidance. Do your homework and do it right in a way that works for you. It should be done without giving off odors or attracting wildlife. The last thing you want is a stinking pile of garbage attracting animals to your back yard. Take a class on composting or get on the internet and research how to compost correctly. 

Anything else you want to share or wish I had asked?

As a wildlife biologist I feel strongly about this - if you want to compost without attracting animals, then make sure your backyard does not already have other attractants that would bring in wildlife. If you have birdseed out for the birds anytime but during the winter, then you will attract bears, and once already in your backyard, the bears will also try to tear into your compost, even if it is not giving off much for odors. Feed the birds only during the winter months, and this will help you to be a successful composter.

How long have you been composting at home? 

We have been officially composting since we've been living here in Vermont...about 10-12 years. At first, we had a "tumbler" and then, more effectively, Earth Girl Composting.  When I was growing up in suburban Boston, my family had a compost pile in the backyard for corn husks, leaves, etc. and an in-ground "garbage collector" which was composted as well.

Why did you start composting? What’s your system for collecting food scraps?

My husband and I started composting because it seemed a waste to throw away so much vegetable matter from the kitchen and yard.  We both help keep it going.

We put items in our compost bucket as we go.  It's right in the kitchen next to the island countertop, and close to the sink. It is emptied every two weeks by Earth Girl who picks it up and leaves a clean bucket.

Kitchen compost bucket
Food scrap bucket in the kitchen

How is your compost system set up?

We have subscribed to Earth Girl Compost for household waste. They provide a bucket for us to use which is emptied every two weeks. We also have a tumbler but use it only sporadically for yard/garden waste.

Do you compost through the winter? If so, do you do anything differently?

Yes, the buckets are picked up year-round, though we don't put the buckets out early in the morning so they don't freeze.

Have you had any problems?

Bucket at end of driveway
Full and ready for curbside pickup

No problems!

What do you like about composting or why are you still doing it?

I love the convenience of it. I love having a place to put all those food scraps so they can be used to replenish the earth, with no bother for me!

What would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant to start composting?

A good system like Earth Girl is very helpful!  I find it very easy to manage and it feels as if we're doing the right thing for the earth.

Anything else you want to share or wish I had asked?

We are very happy with our composting system, and probably wouldn't be as faithful about it without the bi-weekly pick up.

Why Compost With Worms?

I had known about worm composting for quite a while but had never done it. However, a few years ago a friend had a working worm composting system for sale, and I jumped on the opportunity! This was around the time that we had a bear overturn and rummage through our outdoor compost bin (we live in the woods at the end of a dirt road). The worm composter is a vertical system that already had worms (red wigglers) and worm “food”! It allows us to compost almost all of our household kitchen waste in our house, year-round, without odors, and without attracting bears. 

(Note: Our worm composting is in the mud room of our not-yet-finished house, so cleaning up the outside of it has not been a priority. That said, you probably don’t want to have it in your living-room!)

Worms composting
Happy worms with food scraps

The Worms

Our worms have been happily dealing with 2 to 4 pounds of kitchen waste per week or so. They self-regulate their population to deal with the food supply. We benefit both from having the kitchen garbage dealt with, and from the rich worm castings soil. I mix it with potting soil for house plants or it can be used in the garden. The worms have been very happy this summer, and I have been able to “harvest” worms to give away to several other people to get started with worm composting; this makes me feel good! Red wigglers can also be purchased online.

I have found the red wigglers to be very tolerant. Besides kitchen scraps, they like some “bedding” – partially composted leaves or straw or shredded paper or similar – and something gritty, like coffee grounds or cornmeal or ground up eggshells. Red wigglers are not native to Vermont and will not survive winter outdoors. They like being about room temperature and so do not like a “hot” compost system. They also do not like light but generally stay within the top few inches of food/bedding.

Vertical worm composter
Vertical Worm Composter

The Process

There are many ways to set up worm composting. Systems like ours are available for sale, but there are also do-it-yourself plans, both vertical and horizontal. All systems will need a way to drain excess moisture from the bottom. There is lots of information online and good books as well. Some of the information is especially for people in business either to sell worms or to sell the worm castings.

During the summer, we store our food scraps in the refrigerator, primarily to avoid fruit flies. We use a metal canister and also an old plastic bucket. The worms do not like citrus peels, are very slow to eat banana peels (which also tend to attract fruit flies), and don’t eat meat scraps. Whole eggshells don’t break down but powdered eggshells are good for providing minerals. Things with seeds (squash, melon, peppers, tomatoes, etc.) are fine, but the seeds remain in the castings and generally do sprout eventually.

We collect the things the worms don’t break down and take them to the food scrap collection at the local recycling center which accepts meat scraps. When we have a lot of something that would be too much for the worms, like big kale stems, we’ll put them in our outdoor bin (apparently the bears don’t like kale!).

I really enjoy my “pet” worms!

 

Businesses

How long has your business been separating food scraps from the trash?

We’ve been composting for a handful of years. It started with awareness and information in high school and grew into more as the years went by. We got a home unit from Green Mountain Compost around 6 years ago to make compost material for our garden and signed on with No Waste Compost a few years ago for weekly pickup at our home. So, when we opened Willow’s, it was an easy transition to larger scale composting, and it felt important to push toward being a greener business. Currently everything we use for regular orders (sandwich wraps, coffee cups/lids, etc.) is compostable, and we’re constantly working to find alternatives to the last few items we use more sporadically. 

Willow's compost bin sign
Clear signage on the compost bin

Why did you start separating your food scraps from the trash? How do your staff and customers feel about it? 

We separate food scraps from trash to be conscious of our waste and our environment. The more we throw into the trash, the more we waste beneficial material for our farms and gardens. Our staff has been excited about our focus on being a greener business. They’ve been on board from the very beginning, especially considering how many items would end up in the trash at a different restaurant. We ask our customers to separate compost from trash, but usually every item they have is compostable!

Has separating your food scraps from the trash made you notice anything about your cooking habits or customers’ eating habits?

The biggest thing we’ve noticed has been how much food waste comes from anticipating how much business we’ll get on a certain day. We prep for what we expect, with a small buffer, and when days are slow, we end up with several dozen leftover bagels. At the start, they all ended up in the compost, but we quickly found places to donate. Our customers habits have been largely positive. Since our cups say they’re compostable, most people ask items should go into which bin. Sporadically, we’ll need to pull cups and other items from the recycling, but rarely do we find our compostables or food scraps in the trash. It’s affirming to have our customer base involved in our missions!

Willow's outdoor waste station
Willow's outdoor waste station during Covid times

Please explain your system for collecting food scraps. 

Currently we have three compost bins, two trash bins, and a recycling bin. Surrounding the compost bins, we have signage explaining what is compostable and what should be put in the trash. 

How often do you bring your food scraps to a drop-off site?

We bring our compost to Green Mountain Compost once or twice a week depending on how busy we are. Last year, we brought around 8 tons of compost, and we were invigorated by how small shifts in our behavior and the behavior of our customers could keep such a large amount of reusable matter out of the landfill. 

What do you like about the process or why are you still doing it? 

We’re committed to composting in a deep way. It’s a large part of who we are as a business and as people. We do this for ourselves, our community, and our environmental impact as a restaurant. We are responsible for what we put into the world, from both the perspective of our food and also our waste. 

What would you say to encourage someone who is hesitant to separate food scraps from the trash?

You may be worried about the smell of your compost, or maybe the bugs that make it their home, but there are easy ways to mitigate those issues by keeping your buckets and bins clean, using compostable bags, and signing up with services to take it away regularly. The ability to watch and curb your eating/wasting habits is worth the initial ick factor, and with a little time it becomes second nature.