McCullough introduces bill to limit 
microplastic emission from Casella facility

By Karson Petty

Community News Service

A new bill that will restrict release of tiny plastic pieces found in local fertilizer — also known as microplastics — was introduced by Williston Rep. Jim McCullough Feb 1.

McCullough (D-Williston) said the drafted bill puts regulations on the quantity and size of microplastics that can end up in Vermont soil. 

“Microplastics are a huge problem for the planet, and they’re an emerging problem in Vermont,” said McCullough before introducing the bill. “Especially so with this depackaging facility here in Williston.” 

Since January of last year, Casella Waste Systems’ cutting-edge depackaging facility has taken in unsalable tubs of ice cream, cartons of rotten hot dogs and packs of uneaten cheese, to shred, grind and crush them until organic waste becomes separate from inorganic. 

“Then it goes to become compost or possibly come into a bio-electric generation plant,” said McCullough. 

Three such facilities receive the de-packaged food waste from Casella and turn it into biogas-fueled electricity. 

Called anaerobic digesters, they are located in South Burlington, Salisbury and Greensboro, according to a Seven Days article published in November. The nutrient-rich solids left over from the digestion process are spread onto nearby farmland. 

“Why do we care about that?” McCullough said. “Because there’s an awful lot of ground up plastic.” 

While the purpose of the depackaging facility is to remove spoiled food from its plastic package, the process is not airtight. Plastic often breaks down into microscopic pieces that are almost impossible to separate from organic waste. These microplastics do not end up in a landfill, but in compost and good soil. 

The question of just how much microplastic squeaks through Casella’s Williston facility is the subject of ongoing research by UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment. 

The project’s director, professor Eric Roy, expects to publish the team’s results early this year, according to Seven Days. 

McCullough’s bill, H. 501, accompanies a bill that would ban the distribution of all contaminated organic waste, which is before the Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife. 

The ban would also prohibit the sale and spread of products containing PFAS (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances) across the state. 

McCullough modeled the new bill after European standards of microplastic regulation. Those standards limit microplastic concentration in waste to no more than 0.01 percent weight per weight, according to a proposed restriction by the European Chemicals Agency.

H. 501 limits microplastic concentration to no more than 0.5 percent dry weight of pieces smaller than a millimeter. And no more than 20 percent of that 0.5 percent can be pieces of plastic film smaller than a millimeter. 

That could prohibit one ton of depackaged slurry from leaving the facility if it contained more than 10 pounds of microplastics, or over 2 pounds of plastic bag fragments. 

McCullough’s bill is before the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.