A mandate in Vermont that requires variable rate pricing for residential solid waste collection and disposal went into effect on July 1, 2015. So far, it’s benefitted food waste recycling.
BioCycle September 2015
The Vermont legislature passed the Universal Recycling Law, Act 148, in 2012. Many of the requirements are being phased until all are in effect by 2020. Among the requirements for municipal entities and waste haulers is having a unit based price system — Pay-As-You-Throw or PAYT — for materials collected from residential customers that is based on volume or weight. The PAYT requirement became mandatory on July 1, 2015.
The town of Vernon, Vermont (pop. 2,100) implemented variable rate pricing for residential solid waste collection and disposal in July 2014, and in late June, the neighboring town of Brattleboro (pop. 12,000) implemented PAYT — both to comply with the mandate, and make solid waste disposal and recycling as cost-effective as possible.
The latest mandate builds on an existing culture of recycling and composting, including food scraps diversion, in both communities. Vernon’s elementary school has been source separating food scraps to send to a local farm for almost 10 years, and has had a residential drop-off program for food scraps for five years. And Brattleboro was the first town in Vermont to implement curbside food waste collection, seven years prior to the mandates of Act 148 (see “Rolling Out A Statewide Organics Ban,” March/April 2014).
Curbside Organics Collection
Working with the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD), and its contract trash and recycling hauler, Triple T Trucking, Brattleboro conducted a successful curbside food scraps collection pilot for three months in the fall of 2012, and then implemented it town-wide in May 2013. One-third of Brattleboro’s 3,000 homes and apartments voluntarily participated in the curbside program (and continue to participate). With each participating household setting out an average of 12 pounds (lbs)/week of food scraps, soiled paper/cardboard and kitty litter, the town has been diverting approximately 2 to 3 tons/week from disposal. The organics are collected weekly, as are trash and recyclables (in a dual stream of paper/cardboard and commingled containers).
Most of the volunteer “Curbside Compost Participants” are conscientious about keeping inorganic contaminants out of the organics bins, and a marketable compost is produced from the mixture of food waste, leaves and wood chips at WSWMD’s turned windrow food scrap and yard trimmings composting facility, located adjacent to the 5,000 tons/year materials recovery facility, and closed landfill.
With state-mandated PAYT to start in July 2015, there was concern that the quality of the compost would be compromised by “reluctant” volunteers who decide to participate in organics collection at no extra cost, rather than put food waste and soiled paper/cardboard in PAYT bags that cost $3.00 (33-gallon size). To save money, it was possible that some would dispose of inorganic material in the organics bin, contaminating the final product. (See sidebar for details on Brattleboro’s PAYT implementation.)
The primary impetus for Brattleboro to start the curbside organics program was Triple T Trucking’s proposal to add organics to the town’s dual stream curbside recycling program at no additional charge. “We offered to add curbside food waste collection, increase recycling collection from biweekly to weekly, and slow down annual cost of living adjustments, by extending them over seven years, in exchange for a five year extension to our contract for trash and recycling services,” explains Peter Gaskill, Triple T’s General Manager. “This has reduced Brattleboro’s overall disposal costs by diverting organics to WSWMD’s food waste composting facility at $65/ton, compared to $105/ton tipping fee for trash disposal.”
Triple T also covered the costs of Brattleboro’s recycling coordinator, Moss Kahler, for six months while starting the expanded recycling and organics collection program, giving the town time to plan for funding the position. Kahler launched an extensive public education program that included regularly sending emails to Curbside Compost Participants. On the occasion that inorganic contaminants were found at an unacceptable level, WSWMD staff took photos and an email blast went out to participants with a picture of the offending cotton sweater, corn crate or aseptic container. “Proud Curbside Compost Participant” signs were distributed to the organics recyclers, and proliferated like political candidate signs on front yards all over town.
After testing numerous types of curbside organics bins, Brattleboro decided to purchase the Orbis Green Bin Generation 2, 13-gallon rolling carts with snap close lids, and sell them at a subsidized price of $13/bin. In addition, residents can purchase an Orbis extended handle for $6 to make it easier to pull the cart to the curb on collection day. The town also offers the IPL 21-gallon rolling cart for $18/bin. Brattleboro’s recycling logo, a ski-jumper (honoring the 75 years of ski jump competition held in town), is stamped onto the bin. Residents can also utilize any container with a locking lid.
For kitchen countertop food scrap storage, WSWMD sells Sure Close, Bio Bag and Sac au Sol (Bags to Dirt) containers. Many local supermarkets and hardware stores also carry compostable film bags of various sizes to use in the kitchen counter bins, or the curbside bins.
In 2013, weights of the curbside organics bins were measured by Kahler. The average weight was 12 lbs/residence/week. Average weights have not been measured since the start of PAYT, but based on observations they appear to be comparable. The major difference is that approximately 700 more residents are participating in the curbside organics collection program since PAYT was implemented on June 29 — from 1,000 to 1,700 as of early September. Total tons of food waste and soiled paper/cardboard more than doubled in July 2015 compared to July 2014, from 4.5 tons/week, to 9.5 tons/week.
Vernon Food Scraps Drop-Off
Economics were also the driver in neighboring Vernon, when residents overwhelmingly approved PAYT at a town meeting in March 2014. It was implemented four months later, one year prior to the mandate of Act 148 for residential PAYT.
A volunteer recycling committee was established to design and implement PAYT within a tight timeframe. Members of the committee spoke with residents, met with Triple T Trucking, Vernon’s trash hauler, researched bag and recycling bin options, and put bid specifications together for bags and bins that were sent to several vendors. Waste Zero was selected to provide the bags and curbside recycling containers. Research was done on recycling options, single stream vs. dual stream, and calculations were made to find a cost per bag that would offset the town’s trash expenses of $140,000/year. Bright green 33-gallon and 15-gallon trash bags imprinted with a custom designed logo of a historical mill waterfall were ordered and distributed to each of the 800 residences by Triple T Trucking for curbside service.
The public education program consisted of several mailings to all residents; the final one included a free 33-gallon PAYT bag. A well-attended public information forum was held at the school gymnasium, with most attendees supporting the program. By July 1, 2014 the program, including curbside recycling collection, was ready to start, and from the first week, and now into its second year, the results have been dramatic in terms of increased recycling and organics diversion.
Prior to PAYT, Vernon’s average weekly trash tonnage was 15.25 tons, and there was no curbside recycling. Drop-off containers at the town highway garage have been available 24 hours a day for commingled containers, and paper and cardboard. These are serviced by WSWMD. A dumpster for food scraps was also added at the drop-off facility four years ago. Prior to PAYT, the 2 cubic yard (cy) dumpster for organics had been filled each week, approximately 0.5 tons. After just one month of PAYT, a second 2-cy dumpster was required, and it has consistently been filled each week, diverting about 1 ton/week from landfill disposal.
Service for the food scraps dumpsters is provided by Triple T Trucking. It takes material to Martin’s Farm in Greenfield, Massachusetts, 20 miles south of Vernon. Triple T has utilized Martin’s Farm’s composting facility for over 10 years, and has an established organics collection route that is more economical than the WSWMD composting facility where Brattleboro’s organics are taken.
As a result of PAYT, Vernon’s average trash generation dropped from 15.5 tons/week to 6.4 tons/week, a 59 percent decrease! With such a large decrease, Triple T offered to pick up curbside recycling weekly instead of biweekly for all residents, at no additional charge to the town.
Curbside single stream recycling, by Triple T Trucking’s rear load packer trucks, has averaged a capture rate of 2.3 tons/week. In addition to curbside recycling, WSWMD’s dual stream recycling bins at the town highway garage receive an additional 2.3 tons/week. Factoring in the food/organics drop-off adds 17 percent to Vernon’s overall recycling rate of approximately 50 percent (almost 6 tons/week).
Another important result is that the sale of Vernon’s trash bags, at $3 per 33-gallon bag, and $2 per 13-gallon bag, has generated sufficient revenue to cover most of the town’s costs for purchasing the bags, collection and disposal of trash and recyclable materials.
Bob Spencer is Executive Director of the Windham Solid Waste Management District based in Brattleboro, Vermont.