Recycling Law to Limit Landfill Use

recyclingVERMONT- Come July 1, 2015, the first component of Act 148 goes into effect. Vermont's Universal Recycling Law's first step bans the disposal of: metal, plastics #1 & #2, and paper/cardboard. That ensures the state that residents will be recycling in their own homes.

Trash disposal across the state is limited and resources are even scarcer across the Northeast Kingdom. Vermont only has one current landfill in service; therefore, the state took initiative to make sure residents filter what goes into it. 

"They [State Agency of Department of Environmental Conservation] were concerned that there wasn't a high enough recycling rate especially because we only have one landfill," Representative Marty Feltus, Republican of Lyndon said.

"The reason from the state is that we only have so much landfill capacity and it's probably better for the environment that we use our resources correctly and re-use them correctly if that's possible," Representative Scott Beck, Republican of St. Johnsbury added.

This law also educates Vermonters on what exactly they are disposing. Feltus added, "It will get Vermonters to realize what they are actually throwing out in the trash, because they are going to be required to pay per volume of trash they dispose of. It will also get people to pull out the recyclable materials that don't need to go into the landfill."

Recycling will not cost homeowners anything, but town budgets were affected with this new law awaiting implementation. The Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District (NEKWMD) is one of the few waste management services in the area. Northeast Kingdom Waste Management covers 49 towns and services just over 46,000 residents. On Town Meeting Day, each town within the district voted on a budget for NEKWMD; the budget for each town was dependent on the population density of that town, as well as how much trash that town typically produces.

"Because our surcharge is based on the amount of trash generated, towns with larger populations typically generate more trash and so the amount they contribute to our budget varies because of that," says Paul Tomasi, Executive Director of Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District. "We see a slight increase in our budget, some of that is due to Act 148 [Universal Recycling]. Most of our systems are in place, but we do need expand our services," Tomasi added.

Many of the towns are utilizing tax money and plan on filling that budget quota with residents' tax dollars.

"We're trying to get some towns who tax fund their trash to migrate to the unit-based pricing system which will be mandatory July 1, 2015. We're working with about a dozen towns who are currently tax-funding their trash and for the most part they are on the path to implementing a pay-as-you-throw or variable rate prices," says Tomasi.

Kirby is one town that started playing ahead of the game. Residents of this quaint town began their recycling practice last summer.

"What we came up with was maybe we could switch one dumpster to recycling and one to trash. So we told everyone at Town Meeting last year and said we're going to do this so if you have a routine where you recycle somewhere else please think about coming to our transfer station. If you don't have a recycling routine, it's going to get a lot easier," said Rebecca Hill-Larsen, a Kirby Selectman.

While practicing good habits before enforcement of the law, Kirby approached Town Meeting Day and approved a relatively high budget of $743,598 for the Waste Management District Budget.

"Someone asked me after Town Meeting this year, so why do we still have to pay Northeast Kingdom Waste Management if we are doing our own recycling here by ourselves. Which is a good question and I think it's a fair question, I mean; do we need layers of redundancy? While we do single-stream, we don't recycle everything here in the town of Kirby," Hill-Larsen said. "So they [NEKWMD] do still have another layer of recycling that can be done above what we do. So there's a reason to still have Northeast Kingdom Waste Management and have them functioning even though we have our own recycling," Hill-Larsen added.

Hill-Larsen suggested that one of the ways the state would get assurance that people were recycling was to make it free-- like an incentive. Many laws and bills focus heavily on budgets and finding ways to cut costs down. Rep. Scott Beck says all other politicians he's talked to also think it's a good idea. "It costs you nothing to recycle and it costs you money to throw away trash, so why wouldn't you recycle?" Rep. Beck said as he chuckled.

"When you talk dollars and cents, people start saying oh wait, yeah if I have to pay you know, $3 for the big black trash bag or I can throw my recycling away for free then it really makes them [residents] think it's a benefit to me," Hill-Larsen said.

While many lawmakers feel this first component of the law will have the biggest impact, parts two and three are also setup to reduce a vast amount of volume that goes into the state's landfill.

The next step in the Universal Recycling Law starts on July 1, 2016, the 1-year anniversary of the laws first provision. This will force residents to recycle all leaf and yard debris, as well as clean wood. The third and final provision is half-decade away. On July 1, 2020, Vermont will ban the disposal of all food scraps.