New recycling recommendations leave questions

Regulations, enforcement still need sorting out

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Executive Editor

Just
The Facts

Owned by

ST. ALBANS — With recyclables to be banned from landfills in 2015 and organic waste to be banned in 2020 under Act 148, Vermont officials must now determine how to create effective and efficient collection systems for those materials.

Earlier this month the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) submitted its recommendations for the implementation of Act 148 with significant changes coming in the next two years.

However, the recommendations do not touch on two questions raised in the analysis performed by DSM Environmental at the request of ANR: enforcement and changes to the hauling system.

Vermonters will begin seeing changes in their trash disposal in 2014, when all transfer stations and drop-off sites will have to begin accepting recyclables at no additional charge. That is already the case within the Northwest Solid Waste District (NWSWD), which operates drop-off sites in Franklin and Grand Isle counties.

The biggest change in 2014 will be for businesses generating 2 tons of food waste per week. If they are located within 20 miles of a certified composting facility, they must begin diverting those food scraps to composting next year.

In 2015, recycling must be made available in all public buildings and all waste haulers will be required to accept recyclables at no additional charge. To encourage recycling, haulers will have to charge for trash disposal based upon the amount of waste being thrown away.

Currently, there is a hodgepodge of charging methods in place, even within a single solid waste district. ANR has said it will provide guidance on volume-based trash fees for haulers and drop-off site operators by 2015.

Drop-off sites will have to begin accepting yard waste in 2015, and the businesses generating a single ton of food waste each week will have to begin transporting that waste for composting, provided there is a certified facility within 20 miles.

With recyclables and organics banned from landfills, the question becomes how the ban is enforced. Currently, recycling is mandatory in all towns belonging to NWSWD, for example, but individual households and businesses that fail to recycle do not pay a penalty. Instead, haulers who collect trash with recyclables combined with trash are fined, if they are caught.

With statewide mandatory recycling, the question becomes at what level is enforcement action taken. Do enforcement officers look randomly into household or business trash and fine households and businesses with recyclables in their trash? Is trash inspected at the transfer station when haulers bring it in? Or at the landfill prior to being dumped?

Also, who hires the enforcement officers and how great are the fines?

DSM analyzed the costs of the additional infrastructure needed to support universal recycling and composting, and estimated $42 to $45 million would be needed over nine years to implement the new system.

One possible source of savings, the researchers suggested, would be having one hauler for a municipality or neighborhood. Currently, few municipalities in Vermont either provide trash-hauling services themselves or hire a contractor to provide services for the entire municipality. Instead, residents hire their own trash hauler from among the private haulers. This results in multiple trash trucks visiting the same street or road each week.

DSM suggested that the greater efficiency that would result from municipalities hiring a single hauler for the community could reduce collection costs by $20 million annually. However, the researchers acknowledge it would result in substantial disruption to the private hauling system.

Other options for creating greater efficiency outlined by DSM include consolidating solid waste districts and every other week trash collection. Although ANR did not recommend consolidating the districts, agency staff have recommended the legislature consider requiring all towns to be members of a solid waste district. There are currently 21 towns not in a district. Some towns are members of more informal alliances which would have to convert to the more formal district structure under the proposed legislation.

ANR’s report to the legislature, estimates the funds needed to implement universal composting of organics waste at $37 million, $20 million for new infrastructure and $17 million for trucks to collect both organic waste and recyclables.

ANR recommends the legislature consider raising the franchise fee charged on each ton of solid waste disposed of in Vermont. Currently, that fee is $6, an amount set in 1987. Doubling that fee would increase the amount raise by $3.3 million each year. Although as more waste is diverted, the less money the franchise fee would generate, at least in theory.

As part of its charge from the legislature, ANR considered the options of both expanding and eliminating the bottle bill. They have recommended leaving the bottle bill as it is for now.

The collection rate for containers covered by the bill is at least 75 percent, well above the rate for other recyclables; it could be higher, but the number of beverages purchased by Vermonters in New Hampshire and returned in Vermont makes a final return rate difficult to determine.

In addition, material collected under the bottle bill is sought after by companies because it is well separated and has few contaminants, especially compared with materials that are collected together and then separated later.