We’re Helping Businesses Recycle Better

By Charen Fegard

It is 15ºF as I scoot and shuffle down icy sidewalks, clutching my notebook and eying with relish the next establishment in my path.

I have been working with Sustainable Woodstock’s Trash Force reaching out to area businesses about Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, Act 148, which was passed in 2013 to increase recycling rates. Our goal is three-fold. First, educate business owners and managers about the law, while providing them useful information to make compliance as easy as possible. Second, get a baseline snapshot of what is happening, and finally help address any challenges they face.

Most of the people I have visited did not know about Act 148, but are doing a great job recycling nonetheless. This is important because, starting July 1, 2015, those items currently going into our recycle bins will be legally banned from Vermont landfills. This includes: glass jars and bottles, metal cans, foils and pie pans; all kinds of paper to include unwaxed cardboard; as well as PET and HDPE plastic containers, bottles and jugs.

For the comprehensive list of all items that are banned from Vermont landfills, go to this page on our website, and open the document by that title (There are five helpful documents there to help people navigate Act 148 and determine the best way to deal with their recyclable and waste materials.)

So far, I have worked with 34 businesses and taken questions from a few of them to the state and GUV Solid Waste District for answers. I email each person I visit a follow up “report” that describes their current program and provides guidelines for improvement now or for dealing with potential challenges.

Each business is unique in its function, floorplan and personality, so each recycling plan is unique, but there are common factors that make them successful.

1. People have accurate information about recycling and know they are expected to do so.
2. Collection is made easy by making bins recognizable, labeled and well placed, next to trash receptacles if possible.
3. The discussion about and evaluation of the program are ongoing because things change.
4. Keep it honest and positive; we are on the same team.

Some are concerned about complications or costs associated with the law. When possible, I will help find solutions. Haulers are already taking recyclables mixed in with the trash, so the volume being moved is already the same. Extra trips for recycling as a separate material can be a fuel issue but it should cost them less to recycle materials than put them in the landfill.

Why Act 148? We have begun to recognize that recyclable materials are resources that can be used to manufacture new goods. Making things out of old things costs the earth and our health less than extracting virgin resources, in fossil fuels, pollution and social justice issues.

Vermont and the nation have been stuck at about 1/3 recycling rate for decades now. This means we only recycle 1/3 of what we can. Meanwhile we generate a lot more than we used to before disposable single-serving containers were the norm.

There will be some growing pains and when policy meets the reality of daily business, I want to be there to make it work as well as possible. I am only sad about one thing. I wish I had done this project when I first moved to Woodstock so I could have gotten to know so many gracious people in the community sooner. If you would like me to visit your business, email me at charen@sustainablewoodstock.org. I’ll be there.

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