Op - Ed

An ode to odor: Get your food scrap bucket smelling swell

By Carl Diethelm, a.k.a “Compost Carl”

Most people remember visiting “the dump” as a kid and being awestruck by the sight of piles and piles of stuff. There were big machines building mountains with the materials, and if you were lucky, there might be an old bike to ride down the hill! It sure wasn’t a playground, but there was always a sense of wonder and excitement evoked by those visits. Unfortunately, once we have our own “waste” to deal with, visiting the transfer station can seem like a chore.

Now, the piles of stuff are a lot more organized. There are opportunities to save money and do good for our resources by participating in the many recycling programs, and now, even composting! This summer, Vermont made a big move to give residents the option to make your trash less smelly: all town transfer stations were required to begin accepting food scraps and other compostables on July 1, 2017.

People that choose to put their food in a closed bucket instead of in the trash can will find that there are less flies and less odors in the kitchen or hallway. This means less frequent trips to the dump are needed, and trash will be a lot easier to carry! That bucket can still start smelling ripe, but it is much easier to prevent odors when the scraps are all together rather than distributed throughout the trash can.

Here are some ways to keep your bucket of food scraps from smelling bad:

  • Keep it dry. Anaerobic, odor-causing bacteria live in wet environments. Avoiding adding liquids, squeeze out wet material, and add dry wood shavings or newspaper to keep the smell down.
  • Keep it cool. Put it in a hallway out of the sun, or in a basement area. You can refrigerate (or even freeze) the scraps until the next visit to the transfer station.
  • Wash or rinse it frequently. Cleaning your bucket each time you empty it will prevent residue from building up, which would kickstart the growth of odor causing bacteria in your scrap bucket.
  • Take it out. The more often the scraps get out, the less time they have to build up smells. Having your own compost bin in the yard, or even a worm bin in your house, is convenient for quick disposal.
  • Purchase a kitchen scrapper. Some buckets will have air filters on top that prevent smells from escaping. Look around at your hardware or grocery store for them, or ask your solid waste district.


While the collection of food scraps is now provided, it’s difficult to find ways to process them in the area. Thus, a cost usually applies. Check with the transfer station to see what rate applies to dropping off your food scraps. In order to avoid the cost, backyard composting doesn’t take much work, but requires an initial investment to buy or build a bin to hold food scraps and yard debris. Meat, dairy, and bones should still be taken to food scrap collection at transfer stations, because they don’t break down well in a backyard pile, and can attract animals.

If there is no space that backyard composting works for you, bringing food scraps separately to the transfer station will still reward you the benefits of less trash, and will make it a more cost-effective program for everyone. Otherwise, someone is paying for an empty bin to get picked up. This creates more options for you test out for dealing with food scraps before it becomes illegal to throw them in the trash. Starting in the year 2020, food scraps are banned from being tossed in the landfill anywhere in Vermont.

Reliving those days as a kid can make the transfer stations seem more fun and nostalgic. While it can seem complicated at first, remember that the attendants are always available to help you figure out where different materials go. Taking the whole family to the dump can satisfy that curiosity of wondering where the trash goes once it leaves the house. You might even find a bike to test out before buying a whole new one!

For more information on ways to dispose of your surplus materials, contact your local solid waste management district. Visit the Department of Environmental Conservation website to find which district your town is a part of: dec.vermont.gov/waste-management/solid/local-districts.

Carl Diethelm, Green Mountain College Class of ’17, majored in renewable energy and ecological design.

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