BRATTLEBORO -- Vermont's new solid waste law has the potential to reduce the amount of trash that ends up in landfills, but it is going to cost more money to make significant changes, a recently completed legislative report has found.
In 2012 the Legislature passed Act 148, a comprehensive law that requires municipalities to make changes in how solid waste is collected and disposed of in Vermont.
The first changes in recycling collection go into effect in 2015 and the Agency of Natural Resources recently completed a 140-page report that looks at what it will take to make the changes and also how various systems would affect the costs and improvements in recycling, composting and solid waste disposal.
Over the next nine years the law will cost between $33.4 million and $158.5 million depending on what changes are made to meet the requirements of the law.
"To achieve the highest recovery rates and the greatest environmental benefits envisioned under Act 148, Vermonters will have to spend more than they are currently spending on solid waste management," the report found.
"We were charged with doing a cost analysis of implementing Act 148 and we looked at the infrastructure we have and tried to see what is needed to take on the additional material," said Bryn Oakleaf, an environmental analyst with the Department of Environmental Conservation. "We wanted to see how local governance could handle the education outreach and other service needed to implement Act 148.
The law has a number of requirements, including making sure that all households and businesses have access to recycling collection and solid waste collection beginning in 2015 and variable rate pricing to encourage recycling.
The law also puts a ban on leaf and yard waste disposal in landfills in 2016 and bans food waste into landfills by 2020.
The new law could potentially increase the recyclable materials recovery rate to between 63 to 68 percent, the report found, and approximately 60 percent of food and yard waste and compostable paper now going to landfills could be diverted under the new rules.
The new law has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 23,500 to 27,300 metric tons carbon equivalent per year.
"We want to let the Legislature know what we can expect from these changes," said Oakleaf. "We wanted to see what we had, and what we need to build and where is the gap."
Part of the report looked at how an expanded bottle bill would have an impact on the cost of solid waste disposal in Vermont, as well as how an expanded bill could affect the pounds of waste that ultimately end up in the landfill.
Handling fees on bottles with a nickel deposit actually cost the state money and it is cheaper to recycle the bottles than to collect the glass and plastic at redemption centers.
According to the report, eliminating Vermont's bottle bill while making sure everyone in the state has access to single stream recycling would cost $33.4 million over nine years.
With the existing bottle bill on carbonated drinks Vermonters would pay an additional $124.2 million over nine years to institute the changes in the solid waste law.
Expanding the bottle bill to still liquids such as bottled water and juice would increase the nine-year cost $158.5 million over the current system.
Vermont currently spends, on average, about $150 million on its solid waste management system, and within that system about 50 percent of the materials are diverted through recycling and composting.
There would be cost savings, the report authors said, if districts are consolidated and the bottle bill was eliminated.
Organizing collection and reducing the number of haulers operating in the same area would also save some money.
"While it is likely that private haulers and the public sector can devise ways to reduce the overall implementation costs of implementing Act 148, especially by reducing refuse collection frequency and adding split truck capacities, it will take significant experimentation throughout Vermont to achieve savings while continuing to implement Act 148," the report says.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.