Central Vermont Leads the Way in Recycling ‘Weird Stuff’
Do you find yourself cringing each time you put something into the trash, because you believe it can’t be recycled? So do the folks at the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD) who are offering more than three-dozen hard-to-recycle materials a new home and out of the landfill.
The CVSWMD operates an Additional Recyclables Collection Center (ARCC) providing an outlet for dozens of hard to recycle materials (but NOT a regular recycling or trash depot). They describe the ARCC as a “recyclables lab” where they experiment with finding viable markets for recyclable materials that often end up in the landfill. This is not new for CVSWMD.
Thirteen years ago, before anyone else was collecting food scraps on a large scale, the CVSWMD partnered with local compost facilities and began knocking on doors at local restaurants and grocery stores. Quickly, they accrued a handful of businesses willing to pay a little extra to have their food scraps hauled to a compost facility instead of the landfill. Quickly, the Business Organics Program grew to over 100 businesses diverting food scraps out of the trash, and by 2016, the private sector was ready to try it out. At that time, the district transitioned its forward thinking food scrap hauling program and focused more on the ARCC.
“Everyone thought we were crazy,” said Cassandra Hemenway, CVSWMD Outreach Manager, “but gradually it caught on and other organizations started doing the same thing. Eventually, parts of the Vermont universal recycling law were modeled after our programming.”
So, if it worked with food scraps, might the same “collect-it-first-and-they-will-come-for-it” model be applied to other materials like batteries, electronics, books, potato chip bags and toothpaste tubes? CVSWMD decided to give it a try. In 2012, using a model from EcoCycle in Boulder, CO, their ARCC opened in a corner of their warehouse. It was called Free Fridays and folks could bring in about a dozen odd and sundry materials normally kept out of the usual recycle bin. Since that first start, the program took off and started accruing costs in the form of staff time and transportation, and eventually grew over 25% per year, requiring a full time staff person, plus several part timers and a crew of volunteers. Because it continues to cost the district to operate, they had to come up with a fee schedule to at least partially cover the cost of providing the popular service.
Now the ARCC is open three days a week, plus every 3rd Saturday of the month and has a volume-based fee that ranges between $2 and $20 per load depending on how much material is brought in. (Most people bring between $2 and $5 worth). The ARCC accepts plastic and metal bottle caps, drink pouches, textiles, shoes, pellet bags, granola bar wrappers, DVD’s, CD’s, ink and toner cartridges, skis, snowboards, books, propane tanks, electronics, and much more.
Markets for some of this “weird stuff” have been found out of state. Many of the materials are processed through Terracycle, a company that works with corporations to collect hard to recycle materials.
The ARCC is rightfully proud of having kept thousands of tons of material out of the landfill, collecting hard to recycle materials that don’t belong in your regular blue bin recycling but do have a way to get remanufactured. Learn more at cvswmd.org.
Sally Bellew is an environmental enthusiast who lives in Wilder, VT. Cassandra Hemenway is Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District’s Outreach Manager.