Brattleboro bests recycling goals

Town exceeds trash diversion goals, composting two-thirds of its organic waste

BRATTLEBORO — In 2012, the Legislature passed Act 148, also known as “Vermont's universal recycling law.” The timeline requires half of the state's total solid waste stream - trash, recyclables, and organic materials - to get diverted from landfill disposal by the year 2020.

Brattleboro has already exceeded that goal.

In Fiscal Year 2018, which ended on June 30, the town kept 64 percent of its refuse out of the garbage dump, according to an Aug. 9 news release from the Windham Solid Waste Management District.

Where is Brattleboro's trash going, if it's not going to the landfill?

The answer: into recycling and compost bins, which are picked up weekly by Triple T Trucking, the town's contract hauler.

Brattleboro started its curbside collection of food scraps in 2012, eight years before the state's deadline for diversion of residential food scraps. The town's curbside pickup program services single-family residences, and multi-family residences up to four units.

Triple T takes the recycling to Casella's facility in Rutland, and deposits the organic waste at the District's composting facility on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro.

Tons of trash

In FY18 the town collected 930 tons of trash, 1,080 tons of recyclable materials, and 605 tons of organics for a total of 2,615 tons of materials.

An analysis of the town's refuse showed the collection of recyclable materials accounted for 41 percent of the diversion, and 23 percent was attributed to organics.

“The actual landfill diversion rate is probably 2 percent less due to contaminants in the recyclables and organics,” according to the news release. Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland, who oversees the town's solid waste program, credits the collection of food scraps and other organics with exceeding the 50 percent goal.

The Waste Management District's director, Bob Spencer, told The Commons the town's pay-as-you-throw trash bag program was also a major driver of Brattleboro's diversion success. Residents must purchase special bags for garbage; recycling and compost pick-up comes at no extra cost to households beyond the town's solid waste budget.

That Triple T picks up garbage only every other week also encourages Brattleboro residents to compost food scraps.

“Nobody wants to keep stinky trash around,” Spencer noted.

What also helps divert waste is that Brattleboro residents are good at composting, Spencer said. He noted the contamination rate - the amount of material that ends up in compost bins but doesn't belong there - is very low.

“I'd be surprised if it was more than 1 percent by weight,” he said.

The District's program manager, Kristen Benoit, noted the town has a history of low contamination in its recyclables, too. Until last year, the District operated a materials recovery facility, where workers sorted the town's paper, plastic, glass, and tin, and separated out non-recyclable items - such as plastic kiddie pools and car seats - for disposal in the landfill.

“It's always been very clean,” she said. When asked why Brattleboro's contamination rate for recyclables and compost is so low, Spencer said it was combination of education, enforcement, environmental concern, and force of habit.

“I think, overall, Brattleboro people are more conscientious,” he said.

'There's an awareness there'

Spencer noted that Triple T's drivers, if they see a prohibited item in a trash, compost, or recycling bin, will leave a sticker on the bin detailing the infraction and won't empty the bin's contents into the collection trucks.

Additionally, because “hundreds of people use our compost, there's an awareness there,” Spencer said. “If they throw glass in the compost bin, it could end up in their garden.”

The glass might not actually end up in the garden, because the organic waste goes through a screening process, but the habit of learning what can and can't get composted has helped keep the compost clean. These better outcomes end up saving taxpayers money. In FY18, the town saved $24,200 because of municipal composting.

As the news release notes, “The town pays $105 per ton for trash disposal, but only pays $65 per ton for organics delivered to WSWMD's composting facility.” In the long run, Brattleboro also saves money by composting because the Waste Management District makes money by selling the compost.

As a member-town of the District, Brattleboro pays an assessment to keep the facility running. Steady revenue streams can lower the assessment and allow the District to invest in employment and capital improvements without passing the entire cost on to member-towns. According to Spencer, the District has sold more than 1,500 cubic yards of compost so far this season, which exceeded their expectations.

Early this year, they sold Evans Construction 300 cubic yards of the material for use in the 5-megawatt solar array located on the capped landfill behind the District's Old Ferry Road headquarters. The compost was used to comply with the project's Certificate for Public Good, which required restoring the land's vegetation.

“Food scraps and other organic materials are some of the few recyclable materials that are available for reuse locally,” Spencer noted.

In a volatile recyclables market, which The Commons reported on in June [“What's up with recycling?” News, June 27] having a local outlet for waste makes financial sense. It also makes environmental sense. Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore lauded the town for its achievements.

“We are thrilled to see the success of Brattleboro's curbside compost and recycling program,” Moore said. “Brattleboro residents have demonstrated how waste can be managed sustainably. They are creating local compost products that improve soil health and avoiding greenhouse gas emissions from landfilling food scraps."

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