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A pile of plastic containers awaits recycling at the WSWMD Materials Recovery Facility in Brattleboro.

Town and Village

Trash talk

WSWMD rep tells Selectboard that the trash district is seeking new markets, holding down costs

DUMMERSTON—Despite the passage of the state’s mandatory recycling law, “the district still runs a deficit, surprisingly,” Michelle Cherrier, the town’s representative to the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSWMD), told the Selectboard members at their Nov. 10 regular meeting.

Cherrier, reporting on the district’s progress in creating fiscal year 2017’s budget, said that with a lot of “pencil sharpening,” including reducing labor costs through attrition and consolidating duties, the anticipated budget has been reduced by $36,873 — just over 7 percent.

She told the board that the district had hoped to see increased revenue with the passing of Act 148, the state’s mandatory recycling law, but it did not quite happen that way.

Because WSWMD operates as a materials recovery facility (MRF), the district can make money selling recyclables to the end-user market. The district accepts trash, but only as a transfer facility — it has to pay to ship it elsewhere.

“The revenue stream is continuing,” Cherrier said, “just not as high as we hoped.”

Part of the problem with this setup, Cherrier told the board, is that many local trash haulers who bring their rubbish and recyclables to the WSWMD’s Old Ferry Road facility are not bringing the latter. She surmises it is because they are taking their recyclables to places that accept single-stream.

Dual-stream — the separation of paper and cardboard from the mix of glass, plastic, and metal — would require the haulers to invest in new equipment, and Cherrier said, “our [small] local haulers can’t afford new trucks.”

Some board members asked Cherrier if the district planned to switch to single-stream recycling.

She said it is highly unlikely. The facility is “not built or designed to handle everything at once,” said Cherrier, who told the board that single-stream plants are “enormous” and “completely mechanized.”

She also said, from her perspective, “single-stream has not turned into the real amazing product that was once anticipated, neither in terms of price [...] or handling [of] recycling.”

“So far, it looks like we’ll still separate our recyclables in a dual-stream fashion,” Cherrier said, noting “there are still buyers [of such recyclables].”

Although Cherrier noted the recyclables market still offers a “reasonable” price for the goods, she and officials at WSWMD “hope it’s reached its bottom.” The market-driven rates for recyclables has “been kind of bottomed out now for a while.”

Some good news Cherrier shared with the board: WSWMD continues to find new customers for the MRF portion of its facility. She said the district currently accepts recyclables from other Vermont towns such as Weathersfield and Rockingham, as well as Chesterfield, N.H. It recently began accepting items from Hillsborough, N.H., and Billerica, Mass.

Cherrier mentioned other revenue-generating projects the district has planned. She said WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer is working with the U.S. Postal Service’s bulk mail facility in White River Junction to handle the recycling of their “enormous amount of paper.”

Cherrier said “high on [Spencer’s] list” is also establishing an “official, modern” composting facility. Other income streams include rental revenue from the solar project, and the parcel formerly owned by Carbon Harvest.

The Finance Committee is also looking into recommending the district’s Board of Supervisors explore raising tipping fees.

“They have not really been revisited in quite a long time,” Cherrier said, but the trick is to not raise the fees “so severely” it will “scare [customers] away.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #334 (Wednesday, December 2, 2015). This story appeared on page C1.

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