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An Early Adopter Of Universal Recycling Programs, Brattleboro Is Saving Money

Howard Weiss-Tisman
VPR file
Andre Smith tosses a pay-as-you-throw garbage bag into his truck while on his route in Brattleboro. The town's early adoption of practices that will be mandatory under Vermont's new universal recycling law are already reducing waste and saving money.

Brattleboro started a sidewalk compost program five years ahead of Vermont's 2020 mandate, and the move is already saving the town money.

Vermont passed auniversal recycling law in 2012 to divert solid waste away from landfills, but the law gave towns a few years to come up with their own sidewalk compost programs.

Brattleboro officials now say taxpayers could see savings next year by moving to trash pick-up every other week.

Andre Smith sees the impact of Brattleboro's sidewalk compost program every day when he collects trash along the town's roads.

Brattleboro started its voluntary sidewalk compost program in July, and with about half the town taking part Smith says he's picking up much less garbage.

"The level of trash has definitely decreased significantly," Smith says. "The recycling obviously has doubled. The compost is not far behind it, and my times have almost been cut in half out here, as far as time out here spent on the street."

Upon the passage of Act 148, Vermont's solid waste law, Brattleboro started a pay-as-you-throw trash system, meaning households must pay for every bag they put out by the curb.

The change has increased recycling and composting, and the amount of garbage going into the landfill is down by more than half.

"We expected that the compost numbers and the recycling numbers would increase and the garbage numbers would decrease. The magnitude of those changes and how quickly that fell into place really is impressive." - Peter Elwell, Brattleboro town manager

Brattleboro Town Manager Peter Elwell is now putting together next year's budget, and he says if the town picks up trash every other week taxpayers would save about $100,000, and the move would shave about one penny off of the tax rate.

"We anticipated there would be a positive impact," says Elwell. "We expected more people would participate in the compost program. We expected that the compost numbers and the recycling numbers would increase and the garbage numbers would decrease. The magnitude of those changes and how quickly that fell into place really is impressive."

Vermont is phasing in its universal recycling law.

Haulers were required to have separate recycling pickup this year, and by 2020 food scraps will be banned in landfills.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Andre Smith, who collects trash in Brattleboro, shows a card he occasionally has to attach to a trash bag that does not meet the standards under the town's pay-as-you-throw system.

Josh Kelly works in the solid waste program at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

He says the state expects other towns to see similar reductions in trash, and cost savings, as they meet the demands of the law.

"When you take food waste and other organic material out of the waste stream, you're seeing a significant decrease in the amount of trash people produce," Kelly says. "And their move to go to every other week collection is consistent with major cities across the U.S. that have also instituted similar services."

Kelly says after years of struggling to increase the amount of recycling in Vermont, the new law has already helped push that number up.

Starting in 2016, leaf and yard waste will be banned from landfills.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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