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Vermont Extends Compost Deadline

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/10/2017 12:35:00 AM
Modified: 5/10/2017 12:35:07 AM

White River Junction — Vermont lawmakers are walking back one of the key deadlines under the state’s universal recycling law in order to give trash haulers an extra year to begin accepting food scraps and other compostable waste.

An amendment to a bill to extend Vermont’s Act 250 law for another 50 years also calls for easing a mandate on trash haulers until next summer.

“The rural haulers are having a tough time,” state Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Williamstown, who sits on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said on Monday. The move was supported by many haulers and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, but opposed by the composting industry and solid waste management districts across the state.

Under the original timeline of the 2012 recycling law, commercial trash haulers would have had to begin accepting compostable organic waste by July 1, 2017.

But with the amendment, which cleared both chambers last week, that deadline has been extended to July 1, 2018.

“I think the extension for one year is reasonable to meet some of these problems,” MacDonald said.

But some trash haulers, including Art Lynds, disagree. Lynds owns the Plymouth, Vt.-based ABLE Waste Management, which services 4,000 customers in a coverage area that includes Hartland, Windsor, Bridgewater and Woodstock, among other Windsor County communities.

Waste haulers have known about the deadline for five years, Lynds said.

“So the reputable waste haulers made the proper provisions to (meet the deadline),” he said. “The ones that don’t want to be in compliance with the law have decided to complain to the state, so now, in my opinion, we have an amendment.”

He said the change puts him at a competitive disadvantage against haulers who didn’t invest resources in a compostable waste infrastructure.

“I spent all my money. I prepared for all this. I put all my time into it. We at ABLE Waste are ready to be in compliance and offer residual food collection to every one of our clients because the state mandated we do so,” Lynds said. “Now they have the nerve to change it at the last minute.”

Lynds said his service will cost existing residential customers an average of about $14 a month, depending on their volume, to have him pick up specially designated plastic bags full of food residuals and lawn clippings.

Under the composting law passed five years ago, residents will be required to begin separating out their organic waste on July 1, 2020; the slow phase-in is meant to ease that transition by ensuring that an infrastructure will already be prepared to divert materials from the landfill to composting facilities around the state.

The shift in the mandate on haulers from this summer to next was a compromise between those who wanted the law to remain unchanged and those who wanted to do away with some of the food scrap provisions entirely.

Karen Horn, director of public policy for the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, pushed lawmakers to eliminate the requirements on commercial haulers.

“Many of those haulers are small, independent businesses that will have a hard time providing trucks with separate compartments for trash, recyclables and food scraps,” Horn wrote in testimony to the Senate committee.

Horn also sought to eliminate the 2020 deadline for mandatory residential composting because, she argued, rural areas lack the population density to support the hauler service.

“In other parts of the state, particularly those that are more rural, it is a trickier proposition,” she wrote.

But those who favored leaving the law intact argued that changing the deadline will punish those who built a business plan around the state’s deadline, such as Lisa Ransom, who testified that changes would hurt Grow Compost, a Moretown, Vt.-based business with 12 employees and five trucks.

Grow Compost is building a new compost facility in North Hartland, and supplies organic material to dozens of entities, including the Vermont Technical College, where an anaerobic digester converts it into energy.

“Over the past five years, Grow Compost has invested over a half a million dollars to expand our business to meet the needs of the Universal Recycling Law,” Ransom wrote.

The heads of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District, the Windham Solid Waste Management District and the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District all lobbied for lawmakers to leave the bill untouched.

Cathy Jamieson, who is overseeing the implementation of the new law on behalf of Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources, said some communities are welcoming the change, which is allowing the state to ramp up its infrastructure. Brattleboro, she said, is offering its residents curbside pickup of organics.

“They’re ahead of the curve,” she said.

Jamieson said haulers shouldn’t be unduly burdened by the requirement because they are allowed to charge for the service.

That’s allowing some haulers to treat it as a business expansion opportunity.

“We have 13 haulers that are offering food scrap collection service throughout the state,” she said. “That seems to be a growing business for some.”

Meanwhile, towns in the Upper Valley are bracing for a July 1 deadline that wasn’t changed and will require trash collection points — such as transfer stations — to begin accepting compost.

Bob Vahey, Hartford’s solid waste supervisor, said the town’s waste management facility on Route 5 will be equipped with a series of wheeled bins located near the scale house.

“We don’t know how much we’re going to bring in,” he said.

Vahey said he’s in the process of finding a hauler who will pick up the bins on a weekly basis.

“If we have problems, or the heat is heavy, we might do it more often,” he said.

If a hauler can’t be found at a reasonable rate, Vahey said, the town could haul the material to Lebanon.

In Strafford, Michael Scanlon, chairman of the Recycling Committee, said grants from High Meadows, a Burlington-based nonprofit, would subsidize the town’s hiring of Bob Sandberg, a Corinth farmer who sells compost, to come haul the town’s organics away. The town is partnering with Thetford on the effort, he said.

“We’re going to try to start it in June, and I don’t have any idea of how many people might take advantage of it and drop their food scraps,” he said. “Call back in six months and find out what happened.”

Sandberg said the change in law won’t significantly affect him, because he already hauls compostable waste for customers, including larger institutions such as schools and grocery stores in Hanover, Bradford, Fairlee and Lebanon, among other locations.

With the deadline for transfer stations fast approaching, he said, he’s fielding calls from a variety of towns that are scrambling to have a system in place by July 1. He’s thinking about how to acquire new equipment that will allow him to handle more customers.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.




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