Feature Stories

Let’s Bring Vermont’s Recycling into the 21st Century

Nearly 30 years ago, the Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) built Vermont’s first recycling sorting facility, known as a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where blue bin materials are sorted. In this same year, 1993, Jurassic Park was the big movie hit, a gallon of gas cost $1.68 and Janet Jackson and Mariah Carey dominated the music charts. In other words, it was a long time ago. And just like people’s taste in music has changed, people’s recycling needs have evolved. The current MRF can no longer keep up with modern packaging and the recycling needs of Vermonters today. The facility is inefficient and outdated. Employees are still hand sorting some materials, and the facility is at capacity.

To address these challenges, CSWD is proposing to build a new MRF that will be more efficient and effective, providing affordable, in-state processing for Vermonters’ recycling for years to come. It will be built with enough capacity and flexibility to adapt to changes in volume and types of recyclables over the next 30 years. The new MRF will be better equipped to deal with the vastly diversified packaging formats that didn’t exist in the 20th century.

CSWD functions much like a school or water district, only we manage solid waste. As a municipally owned District, we serve the public without profit as a driver. Because we’re a municipality, we need voter approval for long-term borrowing so that we can finance the new MRF project. CSWD will be seeking voter approval in this year’s General Election to borrow no more than $22 million to build the new MRF.

In 1993, it’s doubtful that anyone could have imagined the variety of packaging that exists in our modern world. Because packaging has changed significantly since then, we are not able to process all the types of packaging that we would like to. The new MRF, however, will allow CSWD to have the flexibility to adapt to future packaging innovations. And where markets are available, we will also be able to add things like packaging and containers made from black plastic to our list of recyclable items. The new MRF will allow us to grow for the next 30 years, with 40% more capacity.

Vermonters know that recycling has immense benefits for the environment, the climate, and the economy. CSWD’s new MRF will be able to process up to 70,000 tons (140 million pounds) of recyclables every year. Recycling these materials has significant greenhouse gas reduction benefits, the equivalent of removing 52,500 passenger vehicles from the road and conserving nearly 28 million gallons of gas annually. Recycling these materials could save 634,000 trees from being cut down, every year.

Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, conserves natural resources, reduces carbon emissions and creates jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries. For all these reasons, Vermonters want to recycle, and they want to recycle more. Building a new MRF will allow our state to recycle more volume and types of packaging, which means removing more materials from the waste stream and sending less trash to Vermont’s one and only landfill.

The benefits of a new MRF go beyond protecting the environment and extend to our economy. The new MRF will replace repetitive, hand-sorting jobs with more diverse, skilled jobs. It will also provide our hard-working team members with a cleaner facility and improved working conditions.

While the new MRF is an exciting prospect, what is perhaps even more appealing is the fact that this new, high-tech facility will be built at no cost to taxpayers. This bond will not increase taxes and CSWD will pay back the loan over 25-30 years through our operational revenue. It is time we move into the 21st century and help the next two generations of Vermonters recycle more. The benefits of a new MRF are clear. It is a win for Vermonters, our environment, and our economy. Construction of the new MRF will be decided by voting for a bond in the upcoming November General Election.

Sarah Reeves is the Executive Director of the Chittenden Solid Waste District. You can visit their website at CSWD.net.

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