Vermont 'leading North America' with Act 148

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BRATTLEBORO — Windham Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Bob Spencer says his field is an exciting one to be in right now.

"Vermont is really leading North America in many ways," he said during a Brown Bag Lunch at the Robert H. Gibson River Garden. The series is presented by Strolling of the Heifers.

Vermont's Act 148, known as the Universal Recycling Law, is commended for covering the "entire solid waste management picture, not just organic waste streams" in a September issue of Biocycle, a magazine claiming to be the organics recycling authority.

Spencer, a contributing editor of the magazine, is presenting a talk on the subject during a conference this week in Boston. He also serves as a consultant and is equipped with knowledge regarding solid waste operations around the United States.

"There's a lot of interest about what Vermont's doing," he said. "We're the first state to have Pay As You Throw and also the first to mandate food scrap diversion."

Some states are mandating that large scale commercial food scrap be handled separately but not for residents, Spencer said. But here, it will be phased in for residents by 2020.

Pay As You Throw, or PAYT, requires a unit based price system from Vermont municipalities and trash haulers that are picking up items from residential customers. Prices are based off volume or weight. This became mandatory on July 1.

Towns within the district offering curbside trash are Brattleboro, Westminster and Vernon. Private hauling companies come around with set bag prices, which the state now regulates.

"My wife and I, with no kids at home, put out one bag of trash every other week because we recycle and compost," said Spencer, who lives in Vernon. "Theoretically, you can spend $6 a month and have it cost you less than $100 a year."

According to Spencer, Vernon Elementary School was separating food scraps to send to a local farm for 10 years while offering a residential drop-off program for food scraps for five years. Brattleboro was the first Vermont town to implement curbside food waste collection, seven years before the new law came about.

In other towns, such as Dover and Wilmington, residents either hire a hauler or they bring their trash to a town transfer station. Brattleboro has a transfer station at the WSWMD's facility at 327 Old Ferry Road, where anyone living in the district can take their trash and recycling. Counting Brattleboro, there are 10 towns permitted to use the district's transfer station.

"It's very inexpensive," said Spencer. "It's $15 for a sticker for the year and then you pay $3 a bag."

The new law mandates all residential trash collection be accompanied with recycling, said Spencer, noting there is no additional charge for recycling. But the added charge usually comes out in the trash fee.

For curbside pick-up, recyclable items go in bins or containers. Bags are used for the throwing away of trash.

"So Pay As You Throw works," Spencer said. "It has increased recycling."

With WSWMD being a public authority, Spencer said it has traditionally encouraged the private sector to take up the business that the waste management district is not required to get involved with.

"Picking up trash is one thing," he said.

In his opinion, Triple T Trucking provides "an excellent service" to Vernon and Brattleboro. He said customers are happy and he hears very few complaints.

"The drivers are very professional," said Spencer, adding that their fees are very competitive. "Vernon and Brattleboro got good rates for their trash and recycling."

Most haulers do not provide bags to residents, according to Spencer. Instead they have variable rate pricing, where they give customers an idea of how much a given load will cost.

"What's happening is basically the cost is being pushed on to the private homeowner," Spencer said. "If the town's not participating in solid waste services, they say, 'You're on your own.'"

In Brattleboro, the town offers residents two types of bags. A yellow 13-gallon bag goes for $2 while a purple 33-gallon bag goes for $3. Several stores sell the bags and they are available at the Municipal Center.

"As with any new public program, there were some challenges when PAYT started on June 29, but the overall outcome for the first four weeks was that Brattleboro reduced its total tonnage of trash collected by 50 percent compared to July 2014," Spencer wrote in an article. "Total tons of food waste and soiled paper/cardboard more than doubled in July 2015 compared to July 2014, from 4.5 tons a week to 9.5 tons a week. Tons of recyclables delivered to the WSWMD from the 24 hours a day drop-off boxes are showing a slight increase despite the fact that residents were receiving curbside collection."

Spencer said the 13-gallon bags on average were weighing 10.7 pounds while the 33-gallon bags were 17.4 pounds. Bags not in compliance with the law received violation stickers. Such violations reduced drastically by the end of the fourth week of implementation.

"Based on just one month of metrics, it is estimated that the revenue from sale of the bags is covering collection and disposal costs but more months of data will be required to confirm," Spencer wrote. "Brattleboro is hoping that revenue from bag sales will also cover other costs of PAYT, including bag purchase and distribution, and salary and public outreach expenses for the recycling coordinator."

Vernon's annual cost for using Triple T is approximately $100,000 for weekly collection of all trash and recyclables. With roughly 800 homes in town, that's approximately $125 annually per household. The town introduced variable rate pricing for residential solid waste collection and disposal in July 2014.

Spencer is surprised more towns do not follow Vernon's lead. But, he noted, towns with a lower population and more rural roads could end up paying more.

"There are a lot of town specific factors," he said.

Since PAYT was put into effect, Spencer said residents' feelings were mostly positive.

"There's been really minimal objections," he said. "It sort of just makes sense to people. It's a fair way to pay."

The new law prompted WSWMD to turn a part-time educational outreach position into a full-time job. That person visits schools and community groups. Tours of the facility are given and during events, the district provides recycling containers.

"(The containers) are conveniently located so when people are at an event, they can recycle. That's a real educational thing," Spencer said. "Because you're forced to deal with it."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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