Ham Gillett explains Vt.’s universal recycling law

recycling law
Ironically, the recycling law is something of an unfunded mandate.
Photo provided

REGION – Ham Gillett, Act 146 outreach coordinator for the Greater Upper Valley and Southern Windsor/Windham solid waste management districts, His job is to inform and update the public on the requirements, protocols and deadlines of the Vermont’s 2012 universal recycling law, Act 148. On Feb. 13 he briefed the regular meeting of the Cavendish Select Board.

The Southern Windsor/Windham Counties Solid Waste Management District (SWWCSWMD) serves Andover, Athens, Baltimore, Cavendish, Chester, Grafton, Ludlow, Plymouth, Reading, Rockingham, Springfield, Weathersfield, West Windsor and Windsor. The Greater Upper Valley district covers Bridgewater, Hartland, Norwich, Pomfret, Sharon, Strafford, Thetford, Vershire, West Fairlee, and Woodstock.

Food and scrap recycling has been given some urgency by two factors: first, the sole landfill left in Vermont, owned by Casella Waste Management, is in the town of Coventry. Most solid waste is hauled either there or to Lebanon, N.H. When asked what happens when the Coventry landfill is full, Gillett responded, “I don’t know.”

Second, there is “hardly any market at all” now for materials such as cardboard, plastics or textiles, Gillett said. The U.S. has been dependent on China to repurchase items that can be reprocessed, but China is no longer importing anything from the U.S. because that country now has its own facilities. Meanwhile, the U.S. has the opposite problem: lack of facilities to process those materials. Here, glass and tires are being ground up to use in roadbeds and sidewalks. But we throw away enough aluminum cans to build the U.S. commercial airline fleet four times over, said Gillett. Solid-waste incinerators have been under discussion and have a following, according to Gillett.


Food garbage phase-in

Buried food scraps are a big producer of methane gas as it rots anaerobically. But food scraps can be used in proper aerobic composting. The law covers groceries, institutions, schools and restaurants. One beneficiary of less-than-perfect grocery store produce is food pantries. Farmers are permitted to gather scraps for chickens but not meat for pigs because of the possible transfer of pathogens.

Meat and bones cannot be composted at home, he said, because composters don’t get hot enough. Grow Compost, based in Moretown, will take bones and organ meat and collaborates with Casella Waste Management or other haulers. Grow Compost is planning a major commercial composting site in North Hartland, he said.

On July 1, 2020, recycling food scraps will be mandatory for everyone. On July 1 this year, transfer stations and licensed commercial haulers will start accepting food scraps. The timing is positive from the point of view of gardening, Gillett commented. Homeowners can eliminate extra compostable garbage as well as use it in their gardens, making home composting a “real driver” for compliance with the law. An advantage to consumers is that, according to Gillett, about 7 percent of the weight of a 30-gallon bag of trash is food scraps. People can save on the per-bag charge.

SWWCSWMD is now selling Soilsaver composters for home use at $40 each, or $25 if buyers attend a composting workshop. A small subsidy is available from the Agency of Natural Resources. Composting workshops are scheduled at the public libraries in Rockingham (May 17), Windsor (June 7), Springfield (June 8) and Ludlow (June 14).


Recycling tips

Latex and oil-based housepaints, stains and varnishes, no matter how old, no longer must be mixed with kitty litter and can now be dropped off at participating stores for a nominal fee that covers the cost of running the program. Find details at paintcare.org.

The Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation partners with nationwide Call2Recycle for alkaline, rechargeable and cellphone batteries. Contact call2recycle.org for program information and drop-off locations.

Sewing Peace, a program of Pedals for Progress of New Jersey (a bicycle recycling program), collects used portable sewing machines in working condition for donation to economically struggling countries, enabling folks there to earn a living as tailors and seamstresses.

“Vermont e-Cycles” requires transfer stations to take all computers, cell phones, peripherals and TVs at no charge. The list of dropoff sites and whether they are free (most are) is at dec.vermont.gov/waste-management/solid/product-stewardship/electronics.

Finally, the Boston-based Northeast Waste Management Officials’ Association has a program to recycle large rigid plastics, Styrofoam and pellet fuel bags. The Vermont Dept. of Environmental Conservation partners with NWMOA.

Ironically, the recycling law is something of an unfunded mandate. There is no funding from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation to assist individuals, property-owners or municipalities with the costs associated with compliance.

Gillett is working under a USDA Rural Utilities Service Solid Waste Management Grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture for $43,600, which began Oct. 1, 2016, and will run to September 30, 2017, for outreach to smaller, underserved communities, he said. The grant will be split between the two districts. It pays for his position and composting workshops on handling food scraps, which will be mandatory July 1, 2020.

Gillett’s appearance before the Cavendish Select Board is part of the job. He said a newspaper insert on recycling resources is being prepared in time for Town Meeting and the information will also be on the town website.

He announced that hazardous waste collection will be held at transfer stations on May 13 and Sept. 9 in Springfield, May 20 in Ludlow, and Sept. 16 at the Windsor Goodyear Building.

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