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Sturman: Recycle Realities

What a difference a year makes! When our Town Report was issued a year ago, the Thetford Recycling Coordinator proclaimed 2014 to be “a huge year for recycling”. With volume steadily rising and rock solid Town financial support – she could hardly be blamed for sounding positively bullish as we entered 2015.

Fast forward to the present and I’m guessing that the next Town Report will sound much more bearish. I would not be surprised to see headlines like: “recyclables are down; trash volume is up; costs are doubling”.

But if I recall correctly, this was the year that Vermont’s new Universal Recycling Law (Act 148) was supposed to increase the recycling rate.

Well, the jury is still out on Act 148. To be fair, it’s just gone into effect, and there’s little doubt that recycling markets have been buffeted by the same economic forces that have recently caused such a maelstrom on Wall Street.

In fact, according to a June article in The Guardian, “the problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong US dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.”

Closer to home, in the short term, Act 148 may have compounded the solid waste problem by making it more difficult for towns such as Thetford to do business with out-of-state vendors who have access to a much wider array of recycling outlets than local vendors.

Take the case of Thetford Elementary School. Just last summer, students were elated to learn that the school had been chosen to receive a much coveted “Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence.”

The award was for a school program called “Bust That Waste Stream” that had reduced school trash by 75%.

But elation soon turned to consternation when the Town was forced to switch to a Vermont based vendor. Almost overnight, the amount of trash going to the landfill doubled as the school was told that items such as milk cartons, styrofoam, hard plastic and paper cups were no longer acceptable.

Luckily the students and their advocates did not take things lying down. One young recycler wrote her state rep that she “…did the math and 35,400 juice and milk containers a year would be thrown away and put into a landfill instead of being reused.”

Ultimately the state rep intervened and a positive solution was found for Thetford Elementary. Perhaps a similar reversal in fortune can be achieved for recycling in general.

Thetford resident Skip Sturman is a retired college administrator and free lance writer.
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