Spencer said the law was intended to reduce Vermont’s landfill waste and control solid waste costs. “Vermont’s recycling rate has been stuck at about 30%,” Spencer said. “When one of the state’s two landfills closed, there was concern that most of Vermont’s solid waste would be exported to New York and Pennsylvania. The Legislature wanted to manage the cost of solid waste.”
WSWMD collects recyclables from transfer stations and other locations around the district. Revenue from sale of the recyclables supports as much as three-quarters of the district’s annual budget, reducing the amount the towns are assessed. But Spencer said the price of recyclables fluctuates. “It has fallen off because of the economy,” he said. “A couple of years ago, we got $800,000 in revenue from recycling. This year we barely got $500,000. So there’s going to be an increase in assessments.”
Under the law, trash haulers and town transfer stations must offer the collection of recyclables by July 1, 2014.
“You already do that,” Spencer noted.
By July 1, 2015, transfer stations and trash haulers will also have to offer the collection of leaf and yard debris.
“You don’t do that now,” Spencer said.
By July 1, 2017, transfer stations and trash haulers will have to offer the collection of food scraps. “You already do that,” Spencer said. “So by adding leaf and yard debris to the compostables you take by 2015, you’ll be fully compliant.”
Under the law, it will become illegal for residents to put recyclables in their regular trash in 2015, yard waste in 2016, and food scraps in 2020. Selectboard members expressed concern that the municipality would be responsible for enforcing the law, and could be held liable for recyclables that find their way into the town’s solid waste. “What do we have to do?” asked board member Tom Baltrus. “Station a patrolman at the transfer station?”
“We’re presuming that we’ll have to switch to clear plastic garbage bags,” said selectboard chair Randy Terk, “so what is put in the landfill container is reviewable. If we see a bottle, then we can tell them to take the bottle out.”
Spencer said the law doesn’t require towns to inspect the contents of garbage or to police solid waste generally. “I don’t think clear bags are the answer,” he said. “There are also privacy issues around that – people don’t like it. But there’s a possibility that the state may do inspections if they see an unreasonable amount of recycling (in solid waste) coming through a transfer station.”
Spencer said the law encourages towns to institute a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) or pay-per-bag system with fees high enough to discourage people from putting items in their trash that could be disposed of at no cost by recycling or composting. “(The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) said ‘Let the pocketbook be the method to get people to recycle,’” Spencer said. “PAYT would have to be at a level that would influence people’s behavior.”
Spencer said the cost to throw away a bag of trash could be calculated to cover the entire cost of the town’s solid waste operation. He said a recent calculation in Vernon suggested that, by charging $3.20 per bag, that town could support its solid waste system without any taxpayer subsidy. But Spencer noted that some places in the United States are charging as much as $6 or $8 to dispose of a bag of trash.
Board members noted that Dover already has a PAYT fee of $2.50 per bag. But Dover transfer statino attendant Dave Smith also noted that people age 62 and older receive a card allowing them to dispose of two bags per week at no charge. He said the cards were subject to abuse. “The cards are to help out local seniors,” he said. “I’m not sure why someone with a black Mercedes SUV gets a free pass. And sometimes they’re my worst offenders. Some weekends somebody will drop off eight bags.”
“That may have to change,” said Spencer.
The new law will also affect Dover businesses. Condominium homeowners’ associations that provide trash collection, or their private haulers, will also be required to collect recyclables and compostables. Spencer said WSWMD is considering creating a second district transfer station just for the collection of recyclables so that private haulers won’t have to drive all of their recyclables to the district’s main collection point on Ferry Road in Brattleboro. The secondary station may be built in Townshend, he said.