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Explore our coverage of government and politics.

Towns Mull 'Pay As You Throw' Options For Garbage

Just six months from  now,  many Vermont communities will have to come up with a new way to put a price on garbage. State law requires that by July 1, residents or haulers pay for trash disposal based on the amount taken to a transfer station, and recycling must be free of charge.

The goal of the law is to promote recycling and discourage landfill disposal of trash.

The pending change has prompted towns and companies to talk about if and how they should change the pricing systems they have now.

By this time next year, the state hopes there will be less garbage and more recyclables in your  containers. That’s one aim of the new “pay as you throw” solid waste law. But at Hartford’s uber-organized transfer station, recycling is already plenty popular.

Bob Pear, of Woodstock, is upending his bottle bin into a recycling bay for glass. He tries to keep non-recycled garbage to a minimum. Hartford’s  punch-card pricing system encourages that.

Credit Charlotte Albright / VPR
Robert Pear, of Woodstock, recycles bottles at the Hartford Transfer Station.

“I purchase it at Town Hall and it’s a punch per bag of household trash. The recyclables, there’s no charge, which definitely is something that makes you want to recycle,” Pear explains.

His other financial incentive to drive his trash from Woodstock to Hartford, he says, is the high cost of having his trash picked up at his house.

Pear says his private hauler has been raising rates. The new law, though, does not allow haulers to charge at all for  recycling, so some fear they are shifting that cost to trash removal. But Joe Fusco, Vice President at Casella Waste Systems, says the new law will probably reduce the amount of trash put out each week, which could keep prices fairly steady for the consumer. He says pick-up should be simple and convenient, with one price and one size for each container you fill.

“We would prefer a wheeled cart for both recyclables and another wheeled cart for trash. And that’s the easiest way to do it. Now it comes down to politics and to a community’s discussion with itself and collaboration with do we price that in a way that’s fair to everybody?” he asks.

Credit Herb Swanson /
Recycled cans get crushed at a Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District Recycling facility in Lyndonville.

Some communities, like Lyndonville, contract with haulers like Casella, and residents annually pay the town a flat fee, regardless of how much they put out each week. Next July, that system will be illegal.

Other towns, including Norwich, are having heated discussions about whether to replace their current systems. Norwich now requires transfer station car stickers and sells coupon books - $3.00 per bag of garbage, or $3.50 in cash at the gate. Town Manager Neil Fulton would rather sell trash bags to residents, to encourage more recycling and cut down on arguments .

“And I have people that come into my office and complain and say, ‘they marked off a full bag and my bag was only half full,’ so I want a system that works for the residents, and complies with Act 148, and makes the operation of the transfer station efficient,” says Fulton.

"How do we price [trash removal] in a way that is fair to everyone?" - Joe Fusco, Vice President, Casella Waste Systems

But selling plastic bags doesn’t make financial or environmental sense to Norwich resident John Erickson. He thinks a system based on weight, rather than volume, would be a better incentive to recycle, because you can bring your own container and have the contents weighed.

“A weight-based system would allow people to use whatever they want, you know, if they have a garbage can you can plop it down, empty it, plop it down,” he says.

But Erickson admits using a platform scale in that way could be  too costly. If so, he says, he’d rather just keep the current coupon-based system in place, which he believes conforms to the law that will kick in next summer.

By then, the state hopes, communities will have hashed out a price structure for removing all the stuff piling up in garages each week.

This story was corrected to properly attribute the last quote to Norwich resident John Erickson.

Charlotte Albright lives in Lyndonville and currently works in the Office of Communication at Dartmouth College. She was a VPR reporter from 2012 - 2015, covering the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom. Prior to that she freelanced for VPR for several years.
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