Vermont, now Connecticut, Models for Diverting Organics

By Patrick Serfass | July 01, 2013

It’s difficult to talk about the future of the biogas industry without a discussion of diverting organics. After all, organics or organic waste is the “fuel” that drives the nonstop production of renewable biogas. With the June 20 signing of Connecticut’s Public Act 13-285, An Act Concerning Recycling and Jobs, the Constitution State will start to divert organics to organics recycling facilities next year. At the same time, we might be observing the beginning of a new pattern that will be very good for biogas and composting businesses. It can also easily benefit waste haulers and others in the waste management industry.

In industry-speak, diverted organics usually means food waste or yard waste, the most common types of organic waste that can be separated by the waste generator.

The pattern begins with two New England states building on each other's good ideas.  Connecticut got the ball rolling in October 2011 with the passage of Public Act 11-217, which required large commercial waste generators (more than 104 tons per year) to divert food waste if they were within 20 miles of a licensed facility. However, that requirement only kicked in six months after two licensed facilities could accept the material—a high risk for the first developer to not know when the second system would be built. 

Nine months later, Vermont signed into law Act 148, An Act Relating to Establishing Universal Recycling of Solid Waste, which borrowed the Connecticut model of applying the law to large generators, but took it a couple steps further by gradually ratcheting down the threshold from 104 tons per year of food residuals all the way down to all food residuals in 2020.  Vermont also required a recycling facility to be within 20 miles of the waste generator for the law to activate. 

Connecticut returned the favor this year in Public Act 13-285, which keeps the 104-ton- per-year starting point for commercial generators, reducing to 52 tons per year in 2020. Again, the key is that the requirement only applies if a licensed facility exists within 20 miles of a generator. 

This approach, which requires organics diversion once local infrastructure exists, is the key to building biogas and composting companies in the U.S. and incentivizing the development of new, local businesses. It ensures that if a developer builds a system nearby, they’ll have organic waste to feed it. That’s the start of a viable business model, the creation of new jobs and infrastructure that protects and improves the environment. Ideally, it also alleviates a mantra many of us have heard regarding yard waste bans: “no ban without a plan.”  These are bans with a plan.

Since Connecticut’s law doesn’t get activated until Jan. 1, 2014, and Vermont’s— although passed the year before—doesn’t activate until July 1, 2014, in many ways, it’s too early to claim success. Yet, the passage of these two bills provides a significant step forward for the organic waste sector of the biomass industry—especially financing new projects. They also beg the question: Could this kind of policy, once that requires organic waste generators to send their waste to a recycling facility if such a facility exists nearby, be one that might be adopted in other states? And perhaps federally?

The American Biogas Council and partner in this effort, the US Composting Council, certainly hope so. We also hope those of you reading this will join us as we take more steps to advance the biogas, composting and organics recycling industry.

Author: Patrick Serfass
Executive Director, American Biogas Council