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Vt. governor signs statewide recycling bill

By Dave Gram
Associated Press / June 7, 2012
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MONTPELIER, Vt.—Statewide recycling of everything from cardboard to compost will be mandatory in Vermont in eight years, under ambitious legislation signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday.

"When I was a kid in Putney, we would put our garbage in the back of the truck -- it was everything -- take it down to the Putney dump, throw it into the dump, unlined, next to a brook that led into the Connecticut River, shoot a few rats and go home," the 56-year-old governor said.

Shumlin, a Democrat, said Act 148 marks another key step in how Vermont handles solid waste. The new law follows legislation in 1987 -- 25 years ago -- when the state passed a law requiring that landfills be lined so they don't leach chemicals into nearby waterways.

The new law also makes Vermont the first state to pass legislation that, when the mandate kicks in in 2020, will bar homeowners from throwing food scraps like banana peels in the trash, said Christine Beling, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency. "That is unprecedented," she said.

A recent study by the EPA found that states on average recycle about 35 percent of their waste. Vermont is at 36 percent, but lawmakers said that wasn't nearly good enough. The title of the bill signed by Shumlin talks of "Universal Recycling of Solid Waste."

With the law, Vermont joins several other states with mandatory, statewide recycling. Large generators of food waste -- manufacturers, colleges and others -- will be required to recycle beginning in 2014. Food still fit for human consumption can go to food shelves; if it's not, it can be fed to animals or composted to make soil.

Household materials -- newspapers, magazines, milk jugs and the like -- will be barred from landfills statewide beginning in 2015. Leaves, grass and other yard waste will be barred from landfills beginning in 2016, and the household food waste ban will take effect in 2020.

"These materials are resources," Beling said. "This stuff isn't really waste. It has value."

So much so that Vermont lawmakers decided that private companies that do most of the state's collection of trash and recycling will be required to offer curbside recycling -- at no added cost to the customer.

That was OK with Jeff Myers of South Burlington-based Myers Containers, the state's second-biggest waste hauler.

"It's a good bill," he said. "We have to do that as a society. We have to get recyclables out of our trash."

It's a good deal for his company, too. Myers said his trucks drop recyclables off at a materials recovery facility operated by the Chittenden Solid Waste District in Williston. If the materials come from within the district, his company is paid $10 a ton. Even if he's paid nothing, which is the case for material from outside the district, that's still a far better deal than paying to take the recyclables to a landfill, Myers said.

The new law does not contain penalties for not meeting the mandate.

"We have penalties for throwing trash on a roadside or down a stream bank," said Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, and chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. "But I don't think we're going to see the trash police going and opening your garbage bags" to make sure there are no recyclables in them.

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