collection bins

The Chittenden Solid Waste District wants to build a 62,000 to 64,000-square-foot facility, almost double the size of the existing one. | Lenscap Photography/Shutterstock

A solid waste district in Vermont is planning a $22 million recycling facility to replace the current nearly 30-year-old MRF, where everything is still sorted by hand.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District will upgrade its Williston facility, which is where 53% of Vermont’s recyclables go, according to a memo presented to the Chittenden district’s board of commissioners in March. The MRF was designed to handle 25,000 tons a year, but processed 49,000 tons in 2021.

“Thirty years ago, we were cutting edge; Today, we’re trailing behind,” the memo said.

The memo said despite the increase in tonnage, the MRF’s process is almost completely manual, relying on hand-sorting and that “we run a significant portion of materials through the system twice because humans can’t sort it all the first time around.”

The Chittenden Solid Waste District wants to build a 62,000 to 64,000-square-foot facility, which is almost double the size of the existing one, and make it “high-technology and low-labor.” That goal would be accomplished with optical scanners, ballistic separators and robotics, according to the memo, and would increase its capacity initially to 50,000 tons per year, with the ability to grow to 70,000 tons per year without expansion.

“It will enable us to consider more types of packaging for recycling, saving natural resources and precious landfill space,” the memo said. “The new MRF will be built with enough capacity and flexibility to adapt to changes in volume and types of recyclables as they emerge.”

The memo timeline estimates that construction would begin in 2023 and the MRF would be operational in 2024. District commissioners approved a $22 million bond to pay for the expansion in March, which will be presented to voters on the November ballot.

Along with changes to the physical facility, the Chittenden Solid Waste District is also considering operational changes, the memo said. The district has contracted with Casella Waste Systems to operate and manage the Williston facility since 1999, but the contract is set to expire and the district is considering managing the new facility itself.

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