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Tips for dealing with trash during flood cleanup

Cans and other items are set on muddy ground outside of a building
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
The cleanup scene at the Family Table restaurant in Jeffersonville the afternoon of Wednesday, July 12. The basement was fully flooded, but the first floor was spared.

Vermonters are dealing with a lot more garbage than normal as they clean up flooded basements, shops and homes.

You're eager to get rid of it all — but more important than speed is safety, state officials and solid waste workers say.

Here are some tips for disposing of damaged items and flood debris.

Do you see oil in your basement?

If you have any fuel tanks in your basement, be extra cautious about flood water. Stop and check if there is any oil or petroleum floating on the top of the water.

If you see oil, it needs to be pumped out by a professional — from the top.

"If you pump from the bottom, you will coat your basement in oil and create a much more expensive cleanup for you and your household," Kelly said.

Call the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation at 800-641-5005 (24/7) or 802-828-1138 (during the workday).

The state can help find a contractor for the pump-out.

More from Vermont Public: What to know about returning home after a flood

These items need to be kept separate

Do everything you can to keep hazardous, toxic and banned materials out of the normal waste stream, says the Department of Environmental Conservation.

That includes things you might find in a flooded basement:

  • Paint, varnish, and paint thinners and strippers
  • Gasoline and oil
  • Pool chemicals
  • Appliances like freezers, refrigerators and air conditioners
  • Tires
  • Electronics
  • Fluorescent bulbs, thermostats and thermometers that contain mercury
  • Batteries

These items need special handling. In some cases, you can bring them to your local transfer station; in other cases, you may need to keep them safe in a stable location until you have a chance to dispose of them properly.
"Separate the most toxic stuff from your trash, so that you're not endangering solid waste workers by throwing chemicals into a roll-off dumpster that can mix and cause fires or cause injuries, or they can create really a hazard to the environment if they leach," said Josh Kelly, solid waste program manager in the Department of Environmental Conservation, Waste Management and Prevention Division.

Contact your solid waste district or hauler if you have questions about any particular item.

What to do with hazardous waste

Some transfer stations are able to accept hazardous waste, and some will ask you to wait. In hard-hit Londonderry, for example, the outgoing voicemail message on Wednesday told residents that hazardous waste collection would happen at a later date.

"If you need to, you can keep them in a separate part of your yard. You don't want them to be leaking. You don't want them to migrate to your own soil," Kelly said. "But it's important that they get collected separately from waste."

A muddy fridge sits outside of a building
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
A fridge removed from a basement apartment in Cambridge, photographed during cleanup on Wednesday, July 12.

What to do with appliances

You may have air conditioners, refrigerators and freezers that have been damaged in the flood. All of these are banned from the landfill.

"They're collected at transfer stations around the state as well as scrap yards — they have value, but they have refrigerants that need to be safely drained," Kelly said. "If they are chucked into a dumpster, they can break and those refrigerants contribute to climate change."

Set these bulky appliances aside, and bring them to a scrap metal yard or a transfer station — or hire a contractor or hauler to bring them for you.

 A person leans away from the camera and dumps a box onto a pile of books outdoors
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
A volunteer dumps destroyed inventory from Bear Pond Books in a parking lot behind the popular store on Wednesday.

How to get a dumpster

If you have a large amount of waste, or many bulky items, check what your town is offering. Some towns, such as Waterbury, have obtained dumpsters for residents at no cost. Others, like Montpelier, are offering special curbside collection for things like waterlogged furniture or boxes of books, Kelly said.

Otherwise, contact a hauler to rent a roll-off dumpster — or call your hauler and let them know you have a large amount of trash, and see what they can do.

And try to be patient.

"As people call for dumpsters, they may start to find that haulers are running out of them. I haven't heard that yet," Kelly said. "But I anticipate as everybody starts to clean up, it may be a while before they can have a service."

Piles of garbage line Main Street in Montpelier on Wednesday afternoon as residents and business owners clean up from the week's severe flooding.
Mike Dougherty
Vermont Public
Piles of garbage line Main Street in Montpelier on Wednesday afternoon as residents and business owners clean up from the week's severe flooding.

Dealing with mold

Wear gloves and a mask while dealing with items that may be moldy. Keep children and pets away while cleaning up.

To protect haulers, it's best to bag moldy items before placing them in the trash, said Jeff Weld, director of engagement for Casella.

Compost and recycling

Vermont normally requires people to separate food scraps and recyclables from the waste stream. But that isn't the case when those items have touched the flood mess. Wet, contaminated paper is not recyclable, Kelly said.

Any food or recyclables that have been in contact with floodwaters can be disposed of in the same bag, said Sarah Lillibridge, the outreach coordinator with the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District.

 A woman in a blue shirt climbs between a cooler and racks of candy. She's surrounded by flooding debris
Brian Stevenson
Vermont Public
Susan Brown climbs through the flooding debris in Jelley's Deli, a business in Londonderry run by her mom, Bev Jelley. Jelley's Deli was one of many businesses washed out by the West River flood.

Does Vermont have enough waste system capacity for this storm?

Casella reports that the sole landfill in Coventry has sufficient capacity for an influx of flood debris, and it's open and operating as usual.

Casella is bringing in extra dumpsters, trucks and personnel from other states to respond to the flood damage, using a response model that was developed for the COVID-19 pandemic, Weld said.

Many haulers and transfer stations are operating as usual, or with increased hours. Check local websites for the status.

In Montpelier, the residential transfer station operated by Casella was flooded in the storm and is temporarily closed. The central Vermont transfer station in East Montpelier is an alternative.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Flooding recovery assistance and other key resources

View or share a printable PDF version of these resources.

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