Universal Recycling Law Concerns Waste Hauler

Trevor-split-bodyBennington Banner, 4/10/15 – By Keith Whitcomb Jr.

kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com @kwhitcombjr on Twitter

Trevor Mance, owner of TAM Waste Management in Shaftsbury, shows off one of the split body trucks he says his company will need more of if it wants to meet the state’s recycling goals. TAM worries compliance will be costly, state and county officials say not so much.

SHAFTSBURY» A local waste hauler is worried that new regulations on trash and recycling will be difficult and expensive to follow.

“I don’t want to come off as negative on this law,” said Trevor Mance, owner of TAM Waste Management in Shaftsbury. “There’s positive effects of it — it just means there’s going to be a price increase, it’s going to cost more money.”

Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law was passed unanimously by the legislature in 2012. Not all of it goes into effect at once, with most elements being phased in each year until 2020.

Starting July 1, all towns and solid waste districts must have implemented a “pay-as-youthrow” fee structure requiring residential trash charges to be based on volume or weight. The law also says that by that date:

  • Recyclables will be banned from landfills.
  • Transfer stations must accept leaf and yard debris.
  • Haulers must offer recycling collection at no additional charge.
  • Public buildings must place recycling containers alongside trash containers except the ones in restrooms.
  • Entities generating more than 52 tons of food scraps per year or one ton per week must divert that material to a certified facility within 20 miles.

Mance said that as a hauler he will be required to report on a quarterly basis how many tons of material came from each town, and state, that he hauls waste from. The state will use these numbers to see how much material is being recycled, with a goal of 50 percent.

It’s these reporting requirements and target numbers he fears will cost his company as much as $3 million over the next five years, even if county and state officials say the requirements are not so onerous.

Mance said that keeping up with the reporting requirements will require him to create at least one part-time position at his company, if not a fulltimer, and to recycle 50 percent of the 24,000 tons of material that comes through the TAM transfer station on a yearly basis will require him to purchased between two and three additional “split body” trucks, each costing approximately $250,000.

Josh Kelly, materials management section chief for the Agency of Natural Resources Solid Waste Program, said the goal of raising Vermont’s recycling rate to 50 percent — from the current 30 to 35 percent — is not a target number nor a requirement, but an overall goal, not something to be enforced.

How towns go about recording solid waste is also largely up to them, he said.

Right now, 13 towns in Bennington County, including Bennington and its direct neighbors, are working on two things that dovetail together regarding solid waste. One is they hope to create a solid waste alliance, which is an entity similar to a solid waste district but with less authority. The alliance, according to Michael Batcher, solid waste program manager for the Bennington County Regional Commission, would formalize some pre-existing relationships the towns have had to manage the flow of solid waste.

The BCRC does not create laws or enforce them. Primarily it supports towns in the county with grant applications and planning documents. It has assisted with past solid waste implementation plans (SWIP) and helped each town draft an solid waste ordinance in line with the statewide SWIP.

Batcher said the towns would use this licensing system to effectively enforce the pay-as-you-throw requirement and to track what material is being hauled from where. This will be made easier if and when the solid waste alliance is created.

“We don’t want to make this burdensome,” said Batcher, saying there is no intent to penalize towns or haulers for bad reporting. The goal is simply to have everyone in the state paying for throwing out trash by volume and to track how much is being recycled.

Mance was not reassured by these statements.

“What happens five years from now?” he wondered, speaking to the Banner earlier this week.

Mance sat on the Solid Waste Infrastructure Committee, the input from which went into making the Universal Recycling Law. It was estimated that the state’s waste haulers, from TAM to the much larger Casella Waste Systems, would pay a total of $45 million to be able to comply with it.

Mance said his company owns two split body trucks capable of collecting and compacting trash and recyclables at the levels the state would like to see. His other vehicles can collect both types of material, but not as much recycling.

The split body trucks also can not maneuver into most residential driveways, meaning TAM will have to supply containers for people to take the material to the curb.

Towns in the Bennington area are already using pay-as-you-throw, he said, but some other areas TAM services such as Winhall, Stratton, and Wardsboro, are not.

“Those towns, at the transfer stations they just embedded the cost of garbage into the taxes, so as a resident you just pull in, there’s no garbage fee,” he said.

According to Mance, the idea behind pay-asyou- throw is to give people a financial incentive to recycle. Recycling is free, tossing out garbage is not, so the more one recycles and the less they send to a landfill, the easier it is on their finances.

“Not everybody recycles,” said Mance. “A lot of people don’t recycle. A lot of apartment buildings basically don’t do any recycling. We deal with so many landlords who don’t provide recycling, they don’t want to provide recycling.”

He said Vermont has typically had a 30 percent recycling rate.

“Vermont is not as green as we like to think we are,” he said. “We’ve got a very stagnant level of recycling rate compared to more progressive states like California and out west.”

Mance said he’s not sure who the “garbage police” will be exactly, or what teeth the Universal Recycling Law has, or ultimately will have, and that’s what concerns him.

“My fear, how I see it, and I can’t show you any statute that says this is how it’s going to go, the easy target is going to be the haulers, because they’re not going to go after Trevor Mance individually for not recycling at my house, they’re going to go after TAM,” he said. “They’re going to come down and look at the transfer station and watch a load get dumped, and say there’s recyclables in this load that shouldn’t have been there. We don’t really care who they came from but you’re getting fined.”

Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he does not know what penalties are associated with the Universal Recycling Law, but that the town intends to comply with the requirement for placing recycling containers next to trash containers in public places.

The problem for Bennington will be the downtown trash containers. Each costs about $800, so buying another one to put next to them for recycling would get expensive quickly. For now, Hurd said, the plan is to simply double them up, meaning less waste receptacles overall.

Mance said there is currently a bill in the legislature that would create a grant program for haulers who need to upgrade their equipment to comply with the law. It would fund 25 percent of the cost, which allow a company like his to secure a loan.

Concerns aside, Mance said the law does some good things and at least in TAM’s case has led to job creation.

“We’re going to be staffing our Pownal facility with people to help recycling,” he said. “We’ve got our compost facility that has a couple people working at it. These were jobs that weren’t there, and because of this law they will be there, so what is the total impact? I still think it’s positive. I don’t want to come off as bashing the state or saying they’re a bunch of fools, it’s a good idea, it’s just going to be expensive.”

TAM opened a compost facility in Bennington a few years ago, after unsuccessfully trying to build it in Shaftsbury, and hopes to open a recycling center soon in Pownal. Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at 802-447-7567, Ext. 115.