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WSWMD to suspend its recycling of some plastics

Member towns expected to see a 9 percent increase in their assessments

BRATTLEBORO—The Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Supervisors has decided to suspend its recycling of plastic containers with the numbers 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 on the bottom of the container.

The board says that this is due to the lack of a market to purchase those types of plastic containers.

Markets are still strong for No. 1 PETE (polyethylene terephthalate) and No. 2 HDPE (high-density polyethylene), Spencer said, as those are easily and readily recyclable into other products.

It is not so much the case with No. 3 PVC (polyvinyl chloride), No. 4 LDPE (low-density polyethylene), No. 5 PP (polypropylene), No. 6 PS (polystyrene), and No. 7 Other (miscellaneous polymers).

The other factor in the decision: it takes a full-time employee at the district to sort the 3-through-7 plastics, and that comes at a significant cost at a time when the district’s revenues have decreased significantly in the past two years.

According to recent figures presented to member towns, WSWMD is facing an operating deficit of nearly $120,000, not counting capital expenses.

The WSWMD is a public entity formed by charter through the state of Vermont in 1988. It is composed of 19 towns that have joined together to cooperatively manage their solid waste in rural southeastern Vermont. It manages the only publicly owned and operated Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Vermont.

WSWMD executive director Bob Spencer said last week that its 19 member towns can expect to see a 9 percent increase in their annual assessments next year. Town assessments are done on a per-capita basis.

“We try to run the district as a business, and we’re doing our best trying to find the best price for our recyclables,” Spencer said. “The goal with recycling the 3-through-7 plastics was to get them out of the waste stream, and make a little bit of money, but it doesn’t make any sense to make bales of materials that you can’t sell.”

Spencer pins the collapse of the global market for plastic recycling on China’s recent decision to get more choosy about the plastics it takes in for recycling, as well as reduced consumer demand worldwide.

“The markets are very cyclical and unstable,” he said. “Two years ago, the district had $800,000 in revenues. This year, we’ll barely hit $500,000.”

That lower revenue figure is what next year’s WSWMD budget is being based upon, he added.

The good news for the district is that scrap metal and paper prices are still holding steady, Spencer said. Both are a major source of revenue.

Another source of revenue: the commercial composting operation that was started earlier this year, right after Brattleboro began curbside pickup of food scraps and other organic waste. Spencer said that the district hopes to be selling compost to gardeners in the spring of 2014.

Spencer said the district has no immediate plan to raise the fee for annual dump stickers, or for household trash disposal. He is also confident that, in time, the plastics market will improve. He asked residents of the member communities to continue to recycle all plastics as they have been doing.

“We went through a lot of effort in getting people to recycle, so it would be just confusing to go back to the way it was,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #230 (Wednesday, November 20, 2013). This story appeared on page A1.

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