VERNON -- On Wednesday night, more than 150 people flocked to a public forum on Vernon's pending switch to a "pay-as-you-throw" trash program.
And if the mood at Vernon Elementary School's cafeteria was any indicator of public opinion, many residents are ready for the program's major changes in refuse collection, recycling and related payments.
In fact, Vernon Recycling Committee members who have handled the heavy lifting for the pay-as-you-throw initiative twice received a round of applause. That kind of support will be important, organizers said, when the changes take effect next month.
"We're trying to do this all of this as a town very quickly," said Mike Courtemanche, the committee's chairman. "It's going to take a lot of education, and it's going to take a lot of effort on everyone's part."
With the pending demise of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, Vernon officials have been searching for ways to cut costs. One casualty is the town's current garbage-collection setup, in which Vernon pays $135,000 to Triple T Trucking for townwide, curbside pickup.
In its place will be the pay-as-you-throw model, in which residents will pay based on how much trash they generate. That will happen via specially marked bags that must be purchased at town-approved locations.
Also, for the first time, there will be townwide, curbside recycling pickup. While trash collection will continue to happen weekly, households will get biweekly recycling pickup.
Better use of available recycling options, advocates say, will be a way to cut down on the number of trash bags each resident needs to buy.
"We can actually compost and recycle a huge amount of our trash," Courtemanche said.
The big announcement at Wednesday night's forum was how much trash bags will cost -- $2 per 15-gallon bag and $3 for each 33-gallon bag. Officials said that cost was calculated based on a variety of factors including the amount of trash Vernon historically has generated, projected recycling rates and the cost of Triple T's collection routes for both refuse and recyclables.
The idea is that, aside from startup costs, the town should not be funding trash collection any longer.
"One of the goals of the pay-as-you-throw program was to have it be self-sustaining," Courtemanche said.
Bags will be available at several locations including the town clerk's office, Vernon Library, the town recreation facility and Guilford Country Store.
"As the program continues to move forward, hopefully we're going to have more places where you can buy those bags," Courtemanche said.
Other announcements at Wednesday's forum included:
-- Bags are not yet available for purchase; Courtemanche said they should be available in two weeks.
"That will give you about a week and a half to purchase them before this all comes into play," he said. "Plus, you should all have a free bag by then."
-- That was a reference to the fact that, later this month, officials will send out a mailer with more information on pay-as-you-throw and recycling along with a free trash bag.
"Don't throw (the mailer) away, because you'll be throwing away a bag," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said.
-- Trash bags will be adorned with a Vernon logo, as will the town's recycling bins.
-- Each household soon will receive one free, 24-gallon recycling bin for the curbside pickup program. Residents can use additional containers for recycling if needed, but they must be clearly marked, officials said.
-- Triple T will be picking up recyclables every week, but in alternating halves of the town. Residents will have recyclables collected either on an "A" week or a "B" week schedule depending on their address.
-- Curbside recycling collection will be "single-stream," meaning all recyclables can be commingled in the same bin. There is no need, for example, to separate paper from plastics or metals.
-- The roll-off recycling bins at the town garage will stay put to give residents another option, at least in the pay-as-you-throw program's first year. The bins will continue to be maintained by Windham Solid Waste Management District.
-- Also continuing at the town garage is the Project C.O.W.composting program. Officials on Wednesday distributed a long list of materials that can be composted including some lesser-known items such as kitty litter, tea bags, waxed cardboard and cardboard egg containers.
"That will continue to stay there, except we're going to get a bigger Dumpster (for composting)," Courtemanche said.
-- Bob Spencer, who along with being a Vernon resident and a member of the Recycling Committee also is executive director of Windham Solid Waste Management District, encouraged residents to engage in backyard composting in order to cut down on their household trash.
The district, which is based on Old Ferry Road, has bins and educational material to help with that process, Spencer said.
The announcements generally were well-received, with one meeting attendee commenting that "I'm happy to pay for my own rubbish now, and I think this is a really good idea."
Resident Mike Ball had concerns about the new program's financial sustainability, especially since curbside recycling pickup has been added. He suggested that trash pickup could be reduced to a biweekly schedule to cut down on Triple T's costs.
"Otherwise, your trucks are going to be on the road too much, and you're going to be losing money," Ball said.
Pay-as-you-throw organizers said they are banking on lower landfill tipping fees for Vernon because they expect residents to generate less trash. But they also said there will be another meeting after the program begins to address any glitches or issues that may arise.
"We've done something very big in a short amount of time," Courtemanche said. "It's going to need to be tweaked along the way."
Spencer noted that Vermont's new waste-management law, Act 148, mandates that the entire state switch to a pay-as-you-throw in 2015. Vernon simply is making the change a year early.
"We're doing it because of budgetary constraints, but it's going to be a good opportunity for the district and the town to fine-tune this program," he said.
Resident Munson Hicks suggested a grass-roots approach to coping with those changes.
"This is a great opportunity for neighbors helping each other," Hicks said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.]