VERNON—Although many local towns began complying with Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) on July 1 of this year, Vernon opted to begin on the same date in 2014.
For Vernon’s town officials, establishing the pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) program was supposed to provide some relief to the town budget in anticipation of a possible loss in revenue from Vermont Yankee closing.
By encouraging residents to reduce the amount of trash sent to the landfill by offering curbside recycling pickup and encouraging use of the municipal compost bins, the town hoped to save money on tipping fees.
Additionally, the town looked to add a revenue stream by requiring residents use only PAYT bags, sold by the town, if they wanted to participate in town rubbish collection.
According to Selectboard member Michael Courtemanche, who also serves on the town’s recycling committee, “it was a resounding success” that “exceeded all of our expectations."
At the Aug. 17 regular Selectboard meeting, Courtemanche shared some figures with his colleagues:
Prior to PAYT, Vernon produced an average of approximately 15.52 tons of trash per week for an average of 793 tons per year.
After PAYT was implemented, Vernon residents reduced the amount of trash they sent to the landfill by about 59 percent. This past year, Triple T Trucking, the town’s trash hauler, collected about 6.32 tons of trash from Vernon homes every week, or approximately 321 tons for the year.
Triple T has picked up about 2.3 tons of recyclables from homes each week. The town bins, at the Highway Department site, collect roughly the same amount, Courtemanche said.
Compost collection has doubled, Courtemanche reported, from pre-PAYT figures of half a ton per week to a full ton per week. The town has since placed an additional compost bin at the site.
“The townspeople have really stepped up and are doing an incredible job,” Courtemanche said.
So has the town’s trash hauler.
“We need to thank Triple T,” Courtemanche said, adding, “they’ve gone above and beyond” with helping Vernon achieve its goal of diverting trash from landfills.
Courtemanche noted that some of the pre- and post-PAYT figures “don’t add up” because some residents have opted for private trash haulers during the past year.
When some members of the Selectboard asked Courtemanche if he thought some residents were illegally dumping their trash, and might this account for some of the impressive numbers, he said no.
While there have been a few incidents of illegal dumping — for example, at the town recycling bins, Courtemanche said the Windham County Sheriff’s Department has been very helpful in investigating, resulting in successful prosecutions.
Selectboard member Emily Vergobbe, who has participated in the previous two Green Up Day events, said she saw no neighbors throwing trash on the side of the road once PAYT was implemented.
The only negative, Courtemanche said, is that people are buying far fewer PAYT bags, so the town has not met its goals of revenue from bag sales. He said the difference between what the town planned to sell in bags, and what it actually brought in from the sale of the bags, is approximately $25,000.
Courtemanche said his committee expected a 25 percent reduction in trash, not a 50 percent reduction.
Part of the problem, Courtemanche said, is that too many residents are engaging in that “Yankee tradition” of stuffing the PAYT bags beyond their weight limit. He said his contacts at Triple T have complained about their workers having to struggle to hoist the bags into the garbage trucks.
He said the Recycling Committee members brainstormed ideas for how to proceed.
The weight limit issue was simple: “No stuffing 50 to 60 pounds of trash in a 30-gallon bag,” Courtemanche said. Although he told the board “we’re not coming around with a scale,” bags with egregious weight violations will not be collected.
The committee’s conclusion, overall, is to wait and see what happens next year.
“Because of the resounding success, we accept the shortfall” in revenue, Courtemanche said, and “subsidize the shortfall.”
Selectboard and Recycling Committee members offered suggestions and reminders to residents at the meeting.
PAYT bags can be purchased at the town Recreation Center, the library, the town clerk’s office, and at the Guilford Country Store.
Cat litter can be composted. According to Courtemanche, “cat litter used to be the largest — or weightiest — component of Vernon’s trash."
Peggy Frost, of the Recycling Committee, recommended residents who can only make occasional trips to the town compost bin store full compost bags in the freezer during hot weather.
Emily Vergobbe, who said she has yet to delve into composting, recommends the town sell compost bags along with PAYT bags as an additional revenue stream.
“The easier you make it the more people will do it,” she said.