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Solid waste law to force big changes

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Posted on September 11, 2014 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard is considering some major changes to the town’s recycling collection program in view of a new state law that will alter the way communities, haulers, businesses and households will have to deal with their waste.

At issue is Vermont’s Act 148, which orders a series of solid waste management program changes that will be phased in throughout the state from July 1, 2015, through July 1, 2020. The law requires that by next July 1, communities have to:

•  Base residential trash charges on volume or weight.

•  Ban recyclables from landfills.

•  Require transfer stations to accept leaf and yard debris.

•  Ensure haulers offer residential recycling collection at no extra charge and must embed that cost in the cost of trash collection.

•  Guarantee that all public buildings provide recycling containers alongside all trash containers in public spaces (except in restrooms).

The law also calls for haulers to offer leaf, yard and debris pickup by July 1, 2016, and that such debris be banned from landfills by the same date. Transfer stations and drop-off facilities will have to accept food scraps — and haulers must collect that material — by July 1, 2017. And come July 1, 2020, all food scraps — including from households — will be banned from landfills.

“These are huge changes,” said Natalie Starr, a principal of the solid waste consulting firm DSM Environmental Services Inc. of Windsor.

Starr and her colleague, Ted Siegler, recently completed a study of Middlebury’s recycling and related solid waste programs and how those services would have to adapt to Act 148. Starr and Siegler presented their findings on Tuesday to the Middlebury selectboard, which will soon have to put out a request for proposals for the curbside recycling program. The town’s current pact with Casella expires on March 31, 2015.

Middlebury established its curbside recycling program back in 1990. Casella currently runs four routes through town every other week, with payloads averaging 6 tons per route, according to DSM. Casella bills households for the recycling service, which costs $5.50 per month for single-family homes and $4.75 for multi-unit accounts. The company currently bills 1,734 accounts in Middlebury.

There are an estimated six haulers that offer curbside trash collection, or households can take their trash to a private collection location at Desabrais Trash (in the lot behind Desabrais Glass off Boardman Street) between 8 and 10 a.m. on Saturdays, according to DSM.

All told, DSM estimates the average Middlebury household spends roughly $31.50 per month on trash and recycling services, or roughly $380 per year.

Starr said 625.6 tons of recyclables were collected curbside in Middlebury last year. Middlebury households recycled an average of 589 pounds each last year, far greater than the 300 pounds recycled by the average Vermont household in 2013, according to DSM.

Middlebury is exempt from the Act 148 requirement that recycling collection costs be embedded into the refuse collection costs because the town has an adopted solid waste management ordinance, Starr noted. But Middlebury-area haulers will still be required to charge for trash based on volume or weight beginning July 1, 2015, according to Starr. The town will also need to offer the recycling collection containers in all its public buildings by that same 2015 deadline.

POTENTIAL OPTIONS

DSM on Tuesday offered four potential options for the selectboard as it prepares to solicit bidders for its expiring curbside recycling contract:

1) Drop the curbside recycling collection service and let the private sector take it over.

2) Continue the service but make changes to the town ordinance, service contract and billing method to address deficiencies.

3) Expand the service to include curbside refuse collection.

4) Expand the service to include curbside refuse collection and an organics collection option.

Starr noted there are advantages and disadvantages to all four options. For example, dropping the curbside program would eliminate the town’s administrative responsibilities, but could result in increased costs for consumers due to the possibility of more than one hauler offering the service. Bundling garbage and recycling services could result in lower costs (due to economies of scale) for the program, but could perhaps create a monopoly for one company.

Adding organics collection to the contract would be forward thinking, but perhaps premature given the potential for the Legislature to delay the food scraps collection mandate beyond the current 2020 deadline. (The costs of the various options to ratepayers are complex and variable, and will be more fully explored in future meetings.)

Representatives of Casella and Desabrais Trash listened intently to Tuesday’s presentation and shared some of their views.

Randy Dapron of Casella lamented the fact that some households are not paying their curbside collection fees. Since the collection charge is not built into property taxes, Casella cannot look to the town to take out liens against the properties of folks who aren’t paying.

“People refuse to pay it,” Dapron said, noting Casella has been unable to collect a combined total of $39,000 from various recycling accounts over the past five years.

Starr estimated it costs around $125,000 annually to offer Middlebury’s curbside recycling program. That would amount to around 1.75 cents on the municipal tax rate if the town were to offer it, according to Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay.

Desabrais suggested residents be allowed to opt out of the current program. He noted many of his clients are seniors on fixed incomes — some of them seasonal residents — who generate very little trash or recyclables. These people would rather pay a fee per bag, he noted.

Selectboard Chairman Dean George said he and his colleagues will study the report further and discuss it again at the panel’s next meeting, on Sept. 23. He said the board wants to send out a request for proposals to potential curbside contractors sometime next month.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

See DSM’s report on Middlebury recycling at addisonindependent.com.

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