BENNINGTON — It used to be that all garbage was thrown into one bin, but with recently implemented laws, recycling has increased in Vermont and waste in landfills has decreased, due to the effort of separating trash materials.
In 2014, transfer stations and drop-off facilities started accepting residential recyclables at no charge. The next year, recyclables were banned from the landfill and this year, leaf and yard debris has been banned. These actions were taken to decrease the amount of waste that sits in the only landfill in the state, producing toxic methane gas, adding to greenhouse gas emissions. The need for the Universal Recycling law stemmed from the gas, as well as stagnated waste rates for the past 10 years in Vermont. By parting with unnecessary garbage, transfer stations are able to dump less frequently by lacking in odor.
"The cost of recycling is a lot less than trash pickup and I think that's the biggest incentive," Dale Baker of Casella Waste Management said. "It's cheaper to get rid of recycling. I think people recycle more if they don't have to sort it. In the old days you had two separate containers. This is a lot easier for the homeowner and we pick it up at the curb."
Even though these materials are banned, waste management companies now offer single-stream recycling or 'zero sort,' and recycling for yard and leaf debris. Most commonly, residents rake their yard and dump grass shavings and leaves to the end of the yard or put it out to the road for a once-a-year pick up. But now, there's the option to have it recycled, which went into effect July 1. The goal is to make the debris more manageable, according to a release from Department of Environmental Conservation.
Josh Kelly from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources said that food scrapings is the next focus. Even though yard debris makes up a small portion of the waste stream, he said, organic material such as soiled paper and food waste, makes up one third of the stream. Every five years a waste composition study is done to determine what trash really contains.
At the end of June, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation announced that trash disposal across the state has decreased 5 percent since the Universal Recycling law went into effect in 2015. The rate of recycling has increased from 33 percent to 35 percent. As a result, the Vermont Food Bank has had an increase in food donations thus far. According to the announcement, an estimated four million pounds of food will be rescued from producers and retailers in Vermont, which is a 60 percent increase in the last year.
There are food scrap drop-offs being implemented in the northern part of the state, Kelly said. The goal is to ban it from landfills by 2020. The Shaftsbury transfer station and TAM Waste Removal currently accepts food scraps, including meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, bones, eggs, eggshells, cheese, dairy products, bread, baked goods, pasta, rice, beans, nuts, seeds, coffee grounds, filters, tea bags, vegetables and fruit, table scraps, plate scrapings, leftovers and spoiled food. Plastic and wrappers are not considered food scrapings. The idea behind separating food scrapings is for it to be turned into compost; a natural process of recycling organic material into a rich soil. It's commonly used in gardens.
"Many of us are familiar with the trash bin and now the recycling bin. The next step is helpful to have a kitchen compost container or a bucket," Kelly said. "I highly encourage to compost at home if you can. It's effective, it works, and it's affordable."
In December, the Solid Waste Alliance of Bennington County adopted a solid waste implementation plan. The alliance, consisting of 13 towns, has since reached out to over 40 businesses and 2 schools to promote composting and recycling. Its goal is to reduce the amount of municipal solid waste disposed by 25 percent by 2020 and increase the amount of material diverted from landfills to 50 percent, according to the plan.
"We're just six months into the program. I would hope it would make a difference and hope for an increase in recycling," Michael Blatcher of the Solid Waste Alliance said. "We also help encourage people to properly dispose of things like paint, computers and fluorescent globes. Also, organics composing and dealing with that; that's increasing as well. We've had several schools composting and have restaurants think differently."
Even though downtown Bennington doesn't have public recycling bins, Baker said that Casella has contracts will all Jiffy Marts and the Manchester Street Festival to provide a split trash and recycling can, which he claims works well.
For more information on the Solid Waste Alliance's efforts, visit bcswavt.org.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.