KEITH WHITCOMB JR
ARLINGTON -- By 2020, Vermonters will have to take more care in sorting their household waste, as recently enacted Act 148 will mandate the separation of recyclable material, yard, lawn and clean wood waste along with food from waste streams that lead to landfills.
Vermont towns and municipal planners were given a heads up on what the changes will entail, and at a meeting of the Bennington County Regional Commission Thursday at the Arlington Inn, representatives from most county towns gathered to hear a presentation by Teresa Kuczynski, district manager of the Addison County Solid Waste Management District, on how her district has been handling elements of the law for the past few decades.
Kuczynski said she did not create Act 148, but as the manager of her solid waste district and president of the Vermont Solid Waste District Manager's Association, she knows a lot about it.
The law's requirements will come in phases, she said. By 2015, "mandated recyclables" -- the items most people think of as recyclable, such as tin cans and cardboard -- will no longer be thrown away as trash. Neither will leaf and yard waste or clean wood waste in 2016. By 2020, food waste will not be taken as trash, either.
Kuczynski said the average person will likely have to sort their trash, food waste and recyclables into separate containers depending on the waste facilities they use. Trash and recyclables are not new, but how food waste will be managed is. She said its likely the market will come through on providing containers for food waste, while people always have the option of doing their own backyard composting.
She said the food waste provisions of Act 148 focus mainly on reducing food waste at the source, such as grocery stores and restaurants, then diverting what is appropriate to food shelves. She said food is being phased in last to give time to learn how to manage it better.
The law will also require "parallel collection," meaning haulers and facilities who offer to take trash will have to offer to take recyclables as well. This is to make sure people have options in disposing of their waste.
Kuczynski said that to pay for this, "pay as you throw" models are being mandated as well. People throwing away garbage will be charged by volume while recycling and food will be free. This is to encourage people to recycle more and throw away less, said Kuczynski.
She said her district has been doing a number of these things for years, and she fielded a number of questions on how her district manages costs. She said they consolidate waste collection when possible, and make use of a "reuse it or lose it" center, which gives away things like furniture and serviceable construction material.
"Since the recession hit, we can't keep it stocked," she said, adding clothing taken in is donated to the secondhand stores to avoid competing with them. She said Middlebury College students make heavy use of the reuse it center. Recycling is also mandated by ordinance, as is parallel collection.
Those at the meeting said public education will be a vital component in the law being effective. Kuczynski said there will always be a few people who will not sort their waste, but there have been times in the past where such sorting was commonplace, namely during World War II, and it's only been recent decades where people got out of the habit.
In Bennington County, Bennington and Woodford form a solid waste district while nine other towns are members of a Solid Waste Implementation Plan (SWIP), which is organized by the BCRC and represents an informal agreement on how to manage waste.
For the public, one of the more visible manifestations of the SWIP is the hazardous waste collection days where participating towns share in the cost of collecting hazardous waste such as paint.