BRATTLEBORO -- With the state pushing hard to reduce the amount of trash sent to landfills, Windham Solid Waste Management District is turning its attention to local schools.
This fall, after receiving just-announced funding from the state, district administrators will establish new recycling and composting initiatives at the Brattleboro, Leland & Gray and Twin Valley middle and high schools.
The effort also will involve education, as officials say many people do not realize how much waste can be diverted from trash bags.
For instance, "milk cartons can go into the compost," said Kristen Benoit, the district's program coordinator. "The real goal here is to reduce the amount of waste that schools are producing."
Vermont's new waste-management law, Act 148, is phasing in new recycling mandates from this year through 2020. For instance, it requires that all trash haulers offering curbside pickup must also collect recyclables by 2015, leaf and yard debris by 2016 and food scraps by 2017.
Some new requirements for the largest producers of food scraps -- for instance, big grocery stores -- already are taking effect: As of July 1, any entity that generates two tons of food waste weekly had to begin composting that waste.
"Price Chopper in Brattleboro has started a program, and we are now receiving their food scraps," said Bob Spencer, Windham Solid Waste's executive director. "They got right on board, and they're doing a great job.
The composting mandate is cut in half next year, when it will apply to weekly producers of one ton of food waste. It is reduced still further the following year and, by 2020, all households will be required to compost because food scraps will be banned from landfills.
While schools' production of food waste varies, "They're going to be required to divert (organics) at some point, depending on their size," Spencer said.
Some educational institutions already are separating compostable items: Examples include Vernon Elementary, Putney School and Marlboro College, Spencer said.
Now, thanks to an $11,250 grant from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources' Department of Environmental Conservation, Windham Solid Waste will bring composting to the county's middle schools and high schools in Brattleboro, Townshend and Whitingham.
The state awarded identical grants to the University of Vermont for work with schools in the Rutland and Colchester areas; to Northeast Recycling Council for work with schools in the Bennington area; and to Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District for work with schools in northeastern Vermont.
In Windham County, "I tried to target some of the largest student populations while reaching out to as many towns as possible," Benoit said.
None of the affected schools currently has a composting program, she added. The idea is to install composting containers and collection at each site along with new recyclable-sorting stations and signs inside the schools.
While Vermont's new composting requirements may not yet apply to most schools, "we just want to get everyone on line early," Benoit said.
There also will be educational efforts as well as audits to determine the size and makeup of each school's waste output.
"We're going to be launching it this fall," Benoit said, adding that schools can save money by cutting down on the amount of trash sent to landfills.
Also included under the grant is establishment of an environmental club in any school that does not already have such a group.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.