Lawmakers, WSWMD talk over waste bill

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BRATTLEBORO -- Three county lawmakers visited the Windham Solid Waste Management District during a special meeting Monday evening to discuss legislation that could affect recycling and trash disposal within the region.

Reps. Sarah Edwards, Michael Hebert and Oliver Olsen appeared at the WSWMD office for the planning/operations committee meeting to review several legislative pieces that may involve the district. Edwards, a Brattleboro Democrat/Progressive, and Hebert, a Vernon Republican, are on the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee. Olsen, a Jamaica Republican, serves on the House Ways & Means Committee.

Lou Bruso, delegate from Jamaica, said WSWMD organized the meeting with county lawmakers because it is apparent certain measures in the House could affect the district and staff members could provide expertise in testimony and background information.

"I think it makes sense for us to stay in touch," he said.

Edwards opened with discussion on House Bill No. 218, designed to expand the producer’s responsibility on waste and recycling.

Currently in the House Natural Resources & Energy Committee, the bill proposes to enact a solid waste program under which producers of packaging and printed material would have to develop, implement and fund such a program to expand the amount of collected and recycling materials.

It is not expected to leave the committee this legislative session.

Supporters report an essential component of Vermont’s solid waste management system is to divert as much garbage from the state’s landfills as possible.

There is not enough recycling done in Vermont, Edwards said, and the state developed a solid waste working group in 2007 to review the issue and bring recommendations back to the Legislature. From those recommendations came the framework for extended producer responsibility, that those manufacturing the products must get involved in the process, she added.

Hebert said the committee is right now building a "skeleton" for the bill and is getting the existing information out there.

"We’re going to need input," he said sitting around a table of WSWMD delegates. "If it’s going to be done responsibly, we’re going to need input from people around this table."

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WSWMD members questioned what if out-of-state manufacturers (who would have to pay a producer fee) decide not to do business in the state. Lawmakers said that’s an issue they will have to review further.

Delegation members expressed concern on how to enforce such a program and get solid waste out of the landfills, or concerns for Vermont’s small businesses that do not have the deep pockets of the larger companies. Others noted homeowners will often not know what to recycle and could use a simpler program and make more manufacturing materials recyclable.

District Executive Director George Murray said the WSWMD office does not have the ability to expand its services, nor does it have the funding to do so.

"The problem we have here is the limited space we have out back to expand the materials we separate," he said. "When you start going into the other materials, you personally have a problem with [such as some plastic containers], they are recyclable but we just can’t recycle them here."

With the goal of raising the state’s low recycling rates, advocates say there must be a uniform recycling infrastructure around the state to develop more Vermonters involved within the process.

Vermont’s recycling rates are around 32 percent. Haulers at the meeting took issue with that figure, noting many companies do in-house recycling.

Andrew MacLean, a government and public relations attorney representing the beverage distributors from the firm MacLean, Meehan & Rice, said the 32 percent number was developed by the state.

"The point is that there could be more recycling," he said. The beverage industry wants to create an efficient system and become a cooperative partner to get behind something that makes sense as a whole, he added.

In a fact sheet provided by MacLean, the House bill includes the extended producer responsibility approach for regulating electronic waste and mercury-containing waste materials. Including such requirements for packaging and printed materials can assist in diverting more than 60 percent of those items from Vermont’s landfills.

Similar legislation is proposed in Maine, Minnesota and Oregon.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.


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