HIGHGATE — The Town of Highgate is once again considering joining the Northwest Solid Waste District (NWSWD), a possibility the selectboard looked at last year as well.
Highgate, the only Franklin County community not a member of the district, is facing additional state requirements for education and regarding waste diversion.
Under Act 148 all recyclable materials will be banned from landfills in Vermont starting in July 2014. All organic materials, including household food waste, will be banned in 2020.
The law was passed after the state failed for years to meet its stated goal to recycle 50 percent of waste being deposited in landfills.
In order to reach the ambitious new targets, the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) will be requiring solid waste districts and towns which are not district members to do additional outreach and education, work directly with businesses and schools to divert waste from landfills, and increase disposal opportunities for a number of materials.
As the rules stand today towns that are not within districts must make minimal education efforts and provide two household hazardous waste (HHW) collection days per year. The state subsidizes the cost of the HHW collections. Highgate holds joint collections with Franklin that cost Highgate $3,700 after a state contribution.
At its Sept. 5 meeting, the Highgate Selectboard discussed the impending changes with representatives from NWSWD, ANR and Casella Waste Management, which operates the Highgate transfer station.
All solid waste districts and towns that are not in districts must provide a Solid Waste Implementation Plan (SWIP) to the state every five years. Towns will be required to produce an updated SWIP next year, which much steeper requirements than ever before.
Towns will need to:
- survey town residents to determine their level of solid waste disposal options;
- hold two public education meetings, and engage in additional outreach activities;
- work with five businesses per year to improve their diversion of waste;
- work directly with schools to improve their waste diversion and provide education programs;
- assist with solid waste management planning for all public events;
- create a program for organic wastes;
- have separate collection sites for demolition and construction materials, including asphalt shingles, drywall and clean wood;
- offer year round HHW collection;
- document all changes to the waste stream;
- perform a follow-up survey of town residents.
Solid waste districts will perform these tasks on behalf of their member towns.
“We’re not going to force anybody to join the district,” said Buzz Surwillo of ANR, adding, “It’s going to be increasingly expensive to go it alone.”
By combining in a district, towns can provide more economical and convenient service, according to Surwillo.
NWSWD is funded primarily through a $22 per ton surcharge on solid waste. Trash haulers pay the surcharge when they take waste to the transfer station. It is then passed on to the solid waste district.
Selectman Steve Bushey suggested that haulers might increase prices to customers in Highgate if the town joins the district.
NWSWD executive director John Leddy said that has not been the experience in Swanton and St. Albans Town, both of which recently joined the district. Haulers tend to spread their costs across their entire customer base, he said, although some have more sophisticated billing practices than others.
When a new town joins the district, it is asked to buy into the existing infrastructure owned by the district. NWSWD owns a recycling facility in Georgia and a fully permitted, but unused, landfill location in Sheldon. The buy-in cost for Highgate would be $9,250, or $2.50 per person. It could be paid over five years.
Bushey asked Leddy to consider waiving or reducing the buy-in fee for Highgate, because the town provides the county with a transfer station, but not to provide an immediate answer.
Under the current arrangement, which would continue whether Highgate joins the district or not, the town receives $60,000 annually for acting as host of the transfer station to which area haulers bring trash.
It has been suggested the transfer station could serve as an additional collection site for recyclable or reusable materials collected by NWSWD.
The district currently provides year-round collection of household hazardous waste in addition to collection days for that waste. The state will now be requiring year-round collection because evidence has shown it increases diversion, said Surwillo.
However, the cost of setting up year-round collection can be quite high, he said, because the town must follow federal regulations for the storage and handling of the waste.
Last year, NWSWD collected 16,000 pounds of HHW at collection events. With year-round collection, it collected that much in just a few months, said Leddy. “Increasing the convenience really captures more material,” he said.
Selectman Henry Rainville asked about the collection of food waste from homes.
Leddy said household food waste will need to be composted in the backyard, dropped off for composting elsewhere or collected like trash for composting.
NWSWD is currently collecting food scraps at its drop off sites for transfer to the Hudak Farm Stand and Greenhouses for composting. NWSWD also transports food waste from area schools to the site and has worked with schools in rural areas of the county to set up onsite composting.
The district also sells backyard composters at cost and provides information on backyard composting. “The district will continue to promote backyard composting and drop-off composting,” said Leddy.
“It all makes sense, it’s just very hard to implement it,” said Rainville.
Highgate currently accepts some of the electronic waste such as computers and televisions at its transfer station, and is working on adding a site for yard waste. The law will also require the town find ways to manage construction and demolition waste.
One of the services the district provides is enforcement of illegal dumping and burning ordinances. Rainville said he has heard positive comments from other communities about NWSWD’s enforcement efforts.
NWSWD director John Leddy said the district has received about the same number of calls this year regarding
Selectboard chair Henry Rainville asked about residents observing haulers putting both recycling and trash in the backs of their trucks.
Leddy replied that three area haulers – Casella, Duffy’s Waste and Recycling, and Myers Container Service – have trucks which are divided down the center. Both recyclables and trash are loaded from the back into the truck.