BRATTLEBORO — Anita Grant started working at the Windham Solid Waste Management District about two years ago, leaving retail behind to take on the world of trash and recycling.
“I love my job here,” said Grant, who is now operations and administrative assistant at the district. “I get to do so many different things each day. That’s what I like best about it.”
There’s really no “typical day” for Grant. About two days of her week are devoted to office tasks. Thursdays are for collecting household hazardous waste materials. Other days, Grant might be screening compost. Every other Saturday, she runs the scale, which is where she started on a part-time basis.
About a month ago, the district stopped separating glass in the recycling area. Unacceptable items — such as drinking glasses, window glass and occasionally trash — were getting thrown in with the glass bottles and containers, causing the district to incur penalty costs and the facility stopped taking it from the district after a few warnings. Bob Spencer, executive director of the district, called the standard “very strict.”
“It’s really a shame that it came to that,” Grant said. “People are really just confused about what they can recycle.”
During a tour Wednesday, Grant pulled out a piece of Styrofoam from one of the containers designated for recyclables. She said the material should be thrown in with trash.
Part of her job includes educating the public. She’s involved in updating the district’s website and hopes to provide more information about how to properly recycle on the site.
Grant suggests customers read the signs posted by the recycling containers or ask district staff if they’re unsure of whether something should be thrown inside. She said arrows and numbers no longer necessarily indicate whether they can be recycled.
“Some people don’t care,” said Dick Petrie, staff member. “Other people need a little more education.”
He said some customers will throw containers, bags and aluminum pie plates into the compost pile.
“We have to dump it out,” he said. “It’s pretty nasty.”
A backyard composting demonstration at the district is scheduled for 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. The goal is to show options for home and community food scrap diversion, as Vermont’s Universal Recycling law now bans food scraps from landfill disposal.
The district has free food waste disposal for all transfer station annual sticker holders. Several towns also collect food scraps including Brattleboro, Dover, Jamaica, Stratton, Townshend, Wardsboro and Wilmington.
Since May 1, the district started offering household hazardous materials collection every Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. at its facility at Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro. Previously, the district offered the collection in individual communities.
Grant said the effort is about ridding households in the district of hazardous materials that might otherwise end up in the landfill, water supply or somewhere else.
Hazardous materials are stored in containers on site then burned on site or picked up by Heritage Environmental and disposed elsewhere.
On Thursday, Nick Brown of Brattleboro dropped off some hazardous materials used for home renovations. He recently moved back to Vermont from Kentucky.
Grant and Programs Manager John Fay wore masks, goggles, aprons and gloves while collecting and storing the materials. Gas contaminated with seawater after a boat sank was among their collection.
Appointments are made with the district. If there’s time, those without appointments can drop off hazardous materials as well.
Knowing almost nothing about the trash and recycling industry when first starting, Grant has learned a lot over the past two years. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things slowed down and she was able to learn even more.
The district never shut down like other places during the pandemic. Grant called district staff “absolutely essential” but said they never qualified for any bonus pay programs other workers deemed essential in Vermont received because their employer is a municipality.
“We were extremely busy,” she said.
More do-it-yourself projects and clean-ups than usual were started at the beginning of the pandemic, Grant said. While volume has dropped off, she remembered seeing a lot of computers and televisions coming in to be disposed when stimulus checks went out, believing people to be improving their home offices as many still work from home.
Grant is looking forward to the volunteer-run swap shop at the district reopening in the summer. She said to look at the website for updates.
The district includes seven full-time employees and one-part time employee.