The Vermont Food Recovery Hierarchy

The Vermont Food Recovery Hierarchy

As part of the passage of Act 148, the Vermont Legislature promotes a hierarchy of options for diverting organic material such as food and yard debris from the landfill stream. Act 148 encourages businesses and residents to consider this hierarchy when choosing the diversion option that best works for them. While this hierarchy is not enforced, there is a logic behind it - first by reducing waste, and then directing these materials to where they will have the most impact and be used most efficiently. The Vermont legislature hopes to ensure that Act 148 will have the most impact possible strengthening local communities, creating jobs, creating more food security within our state, and decreasing the negative environmental impacts of waste disposal.

For more information regarding the Food Recovery Hierarchy, please visit:

Reducing Waste at the Source 

Almost everyone who buys food has had the unpleasant experience of taking out the fridge two weeks later, noticing an unpleasant odor or color, and throwing what was once perfectly edible and valuable food away. This doesn’t just happen at homes, but at restaurants, businesses, and processing plants, as well. The first step to decreasing the amount of food entering our waste stream is to prevent this food from becoming waste in the first place. This can be done through buying less food, taking careful inventory, and using smart shopping lists and storage methods to help manage our food more efficiently. 

There are many benefits associated with reducing the amount of food waste created. If we’re wasting less food, than we don’t need to produce as much food in the first place. This will have positive environmental impacts - less pesticides and fertilizers will be needed, potentially less land in production, less energy spent on transportation - both from the farms and grocery stores, but also to the landfill - a reduction in methane emissions created by organic materials in landfills, and financial savings for both individuals and businesses. 

For more information and strategies for reducing waste at the source, please visit our page “Food Storage/Life Extension“ and “Reducing Waste at the Source” or if you’re a business or organization, join the EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge

Feed People, Not Landfills 

Food for people is the second tier of the Vermont Food Recovery Hierarchy. Frequently, food that is diposed of by both homes and businesses is edible and nutritious food that could instead be used to feed hungry community members. With the passage of Act 148, the Vermont legislature hopes to see a reduction in the amount of food being landfilled and an increase in the amount of charitable food giving. Many people worry about the legality of donating food, but corporate donors are protected under the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, and there can potentially even be tax benefits for companies that donate. Contact your local food bank, food shelf, food pantry, soup kitchen to see what their policies are regarding food donation. 

For more information regarding food donation, and to help find a local drop-off location, please visit our pages “Donate Food to People“ and “Donation and Composting”.

Feed Animals, Not Landfills 

Food for animals is the third tier of the Vermont Food Recovery Hierarchy. Some food that may no longer be suitable for human consumption can instead be used to feed animals, which can help farmers save money and reduce the environmental impacts associated with producing animal feed. Animal feed is a regulated term, however, and it is important to understand the laws that govern the feeding of animals and how to properly handle your food scraps. 

If you’re considering donating or feeding food scraps to pigs, make sure to read the Swine Health Protection Act. Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic has also published a helpful guide “Leftovers for Livestock: A Legal Guide for Using Food Scraps as Animal Feed” 

Please also see our pages “Donate Food for Animals“ and ”Donation and Composting” for more information and resources. 

Why Compost? 

Composting and anaerobic digestion is the fourth tier of the Vermont Food Recovery Hierarchy. Even if food waste is reduced at the source and edible food is donated to people and animals, there will always be inedible remnants that are not suitable for these purposes. These remnants can be composted to create a valuable and nutritious soil amendment. Compost is created by the activity of microbes and the proper ratio of organic matter, moisture, and oxygen. iverting organic waste to composting processes, rather than landfills, can help create jobs in Vermont, increase the health of our soils, farms, and communities, and also increase water quality and reduce the negative impacts associated with landfilling organic materials. There are many different ways to turn your organic waste into compost. Visit our pages “Composting at Home,” “Compost Bin Contruction and Management, ” and “Donation and Composting” to find out which method would work best for you

Visit the EPA’s page “Composting at Home“  and the USDA’s “Compost Tip Sheet” for more composting basics.