Newbury, Vt., program sorts out plastic recycling to keep more waste out of landfills

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/4/2021 9:33:50 PM
Modified: 8/4/2021 9:38:59 PM

NEWBURY, Vt. — Town residents who drop off their recycling at Newbury’s transfer station this Saturday will have the option to divert more of their plastic away from landfills.

Typically, A.B.L.E. Waste Management hauls away the town’s mixed plastic, glass and metal recycling. It recycles only No. 1 and No. 2 plastics, and all other plastic goes to a landfill.

Claude Phipps and John Narowski, who both serve on Newbury’s Solid Waste Committee, organized a new voluntary program: If residents separate No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4 and food-grade No. 5 plastic into another container, the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District will recycle this expanded range of plastics.

Alternatively, they can continue to recycle only No. 1 and No. 2 plastic with their mixed recycling.

“It’s very important that when we ask someone in the town to recycle, that it really is recycled,” Phipps said. “I think it’s unfair ... if it ends up going to a landfill.”

Recycling rules can be confusing, so volunteers will be at the Newbury transfer station every Saturday beginning at 8 am from Aug. 7 to Sept. 11 to help residents sort their recycling.

“No. 1 and No. 2 (plastic) always have the highest value, no matter where the price of oil is at,” said Shannon Choquette, the outreach coordinator with the Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District.

She said these plastics are “very easy to reclaim and repelletize.” No. 1 plastic, which includes water and soda bottles, can become polyester and fleece clothing. No. 2 plastic products, such as detergent bottles, are transformed into durable agricultural tools and outdoor furniture.

Although Vermont has been implementing its universal recycling law in stages since 2012, the market for recycled materials limits how much waste can actually be redirected from landfills. When China announced that it would no longer take U.S. recycling in 2017, waste management companies had to reevaluate what products they could afford to recycle. Choquette said that finding a market for plastic groups other than No. 1 and No. 2 can be difficult.

“Because we have our residents sort out the material, we have more ability to ensure that it’s a high-quality material. We’re able to market our plastics to a facility in Pennsylvania called Trigon,” Choquette said.

Most waste management companies in Vermont do not ask residents to separate their plastics when they recycle, which means more waste in landfills. A representative for A.B.L.E. could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

No. 3 and No. 4 plastics are relatively rare. However, No. 5 plastic is common in food packaging, especially in dairy products.

“If it came with food packaged inside, it’s recyclable. But your flower pots aren’t. That’s where it gets confusing,” Choquette said.

She said black plastic flower pots absorb pesticides, and those chemicals stay in the plastic throughout the recycling process. All black plastic has to go to the landfill because optical sensors in recycling facilities depend on lasers, and the color black cannot reflect the laser back.

The expanded options may make drop-off day more complicated but not more complicated than it was when Newbury first started recycling.

“Years ago, when recycling was first introduced, we all separated our plastic from our glass from our metal,” Narowski said. “(Commingling) was a good way to get more people to start recycling. But that has led to a certain amount of contamination. ... Our first step is getting townspeople the option to either continue what they have been doing, or to step forward and take part in this initiative.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at or 603-727- 3242.

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