Those making their weekly pilgrimage to the transfer station in Waitsfield to drop off their recycling and trash this Saturday will see signs pointing out that as of July 23 recycling will no longer be free.

Thanks to legislation passed during this year’s session, Vermont’s long-term successful and free recycling program has been decoupled from the fees charged for dropping off trash which means consumers will be charged for recycling. Previously haulers and waste management facilities had to bundle recycling into the cost of trash. 

Apparently, Vermonters took the 30-plus-year lesson of recycling more and reducing what goes into landfills to heart and did that so well that landfill operators et al found that people were bringing more recycling than trash to landfills and transfer stations. 

That coupled with the fact that the bottom has fallen out of the international recycling market, specifically in China, led the Legislature to decouple recycling from the cost of trash. 

One has to ask if this was really the best solution. It took 31 years to completely acclimate Vermonters to recycle for the good of the state, for the good of our landfills and for the good of the planet. A great deal of the success of that effort can be credited to making it easy and free to recycle. 

Granted consumers need to take responsibility for their own purchase and packaging choices and make choices that are as smart as possible. But given how much time it will take for packaging options to change, it’s questionable whether Vermont’s impressive forward momentum on recycling will be lost when people are faced with paying for recycling.

Prior to this legislative session solid waste facilities and transfer stations covered their recycling costs within the cost of accepting trash – which led to high prices for trash drop-off. What that did was incentivize people to generate less trash.  

What happens to that incentive now? Will people simply start putting their recyclables into their trash because the financial cost is roughly the same? Why should they wash out bottles and cans when it won’t save them money? Let’s not kid ourselves, recycling has been a success in Vermont because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s been free of charge. People will do the right thing for the right reason, but that financial incentive sure helped.

The Legislature did us a disservice on this issue.