Townwide compost program yields results

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BRATTLEBORO >> So far Bob Spencer likes what he sees.

Since the town started a volunteer pilot curbside compost program in 2012 food scraps on a relatively small scale have been coming into the Windham Solid Waste Management District.

Spencer, Windham Solid Waste Management District executive director, has been managing the system that turns those food scraps into usable compost, and he says so far the finished product has been of a very high quality.

"It's very impressive," Spencer said. "All of the people who are taking part at this point are willing volunteers, and they are taking their responsibilities very seriously. We are seeing very little plastic, glass or metal in the food scraps."

Brattleboro is the only town in the Northeast with a curb-side compost program, and as the state of Vermont inches toward the July 1 deadline for a statewide pay-as-you-throw solid waste law, Spencer said the town, and waste district are years ahead of the rest of the state thanks to its experimentation with the compost program.

Starting on June 29 all Brattleboro residents will have to put their trash out in a specially marked bag. The bags are available at a number of area stores, and only trash placed in the purchased bags will be picked up after June 29.

The state passed Act 148 to encourage recycling and composting. People who recycle paper, glass and metal, and who limit the food scraps in their garbage, will pay less than those who toss all their trash into the same bag. In 2020 it will mandatory for all residents to compost, and for now it is voluntary.

Still, Spencer expects there to be a big increase in the amount of food scraps coming into the district in the summer and fall as people realize that they can save money with every banana peel and apple core that does not end up in the garbage bag.

Brattleboro started with 150 volunteers in the pilot program in 2012, and now about 1,000 households are taking part in the curbside program. Spencer said he is mostly prepared for the expected increase, thought here are concerns. There is going to be a challenge coming up with enough leaves and wood chips, or brown material to mix with food scraps. And he is prepared for an increase in the amount of non-compostable materials in the mix as the number of households increases.

"We're going to have more reluctant volunteers," he said. "We expect we'll have to step up our education efforts."

The waste district recently brought in a rented trommel screener that can turn and separate large volumes of compost.

The district is selling its compost for $30 a cubic yard, and Spencer said word has gotten out and sales have been good with the warm gardening weather now upon us.

Moss Kahler, the town's pay-as-you-throw coordinator, has been leading workshops over the past few weeks on the new trash system. Kahler said after the town debated going to a pay-as-you-throw trash system four years ago, and there was opposition then, people today seem to be ready to make the switch. He said people are attending the meetings, asking questions, and they are purchasing compost bins. Kahler estimates that up to 1,200 households will be composting, and more are likely to start once they start paying for their trash. He hopes the town can convince about 33 percent of the households to compost.

"Once pay-as-you-throw starts, people who have been sleeping are going to get a wake-up call. I expect in the next month a lot of people will come forward and say they want to compost. But we are miles ahead of other communities. We're ready."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be contacted at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.


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