MRFs weigh in on draft Vermont bottle bill report

MRFs weigh in on draft Vermont bottle bill report

By Editorial Staff, Resource Recycling

A draft report comparing what "universal" single-stream recycling collection would look like in Vermont — with or without the Green Mountain State's 40-year-old bottle bill — has caused no small measure of controversy. And stakeholders on both sides of the bottle bill debate, wanting to either scuttle or expand it, are raising concerns about the report.

Bottle bill advocates such as the Container Recycling Institute and the Vermont Public Interest Research Group have been highly critical of the draft report, whereas the state's materials recovery facility (MRF) operators aren't quite as disparaging.

The draft report, "Comparison of System Costs and Materials Recovery Rates: Implementation of Universal Single Stream Recycling With and Without Beverage Container Deposits," was prepared due to last year's passage of Act 148, which requires the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to provide a "recommendation from the secretary as to whether the beverage container redemption system should be expanded, remain unchanged, or be repealed." This is the issue that is being debated by bottle bill advocates and MRF operators.

Vermont is served by two MRFs, The Crittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) Materials Recovery Facility in Williston and Casella's Zero-Sort Recycling Facility down in Rutland. Both organizations felt the report was incomplete by its very nature as a draft.

"We're not trashing the report," says Tom Moreau, general manager of CSWD, "it's clearly preliminary."

Karen Flanders, vice president of sustainability and regulatory affairs at Casella, also isn't picking any bones with the draft report, noting that the study's authors — DSM Environmental Services and the Tellus Institute — "did a thorough job gathering Vermont-specific data as outlined in the scope of work for the report."

Flanders also applauded ANR and DSM for recognizing "the importance of focusing specifically on material management as it directly relates to Vermont facilities instead of relying on national statistics."

But both MRF operators understand what is at stake with a possible expanded beverage container redemption program that includes water bottles. "It's all comes down to whose ox gets gored," says Moreau. "What [recycling] business would want its PET [stream] to go away?"

If the bottle bill is expanded to include water bottles and other non-carbonated beverages, a good deal of that material would no longer come into the state's two MRFs.

The CSWD MRF, which processes 44,000 tons annually, has been processing single-stream materials for more than a decade, and is expecting to upgrade the facility and equipment soon. Casella's Rutland MRF, which also handles single-stream materials, opened less than two years ago.

"If the overall value of the material stream declines, it becomes difficult to justify technology enhancement to create a high-quality product and the ability to expand the recovery of more materials," says Flanders.

"Is it about clean material?" asks Moreau, noting that the bottle bill advocates highlight the end material coming from container redemption programs. "If you want clean material, then you have to pay for it. Tell us what bale standards you want and we can make it happen."

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