Logo

Vermont recycling a scam

Many years ago, The Valley created its own trash district, after the existing Central Vermont Solid Waste District tried and failed to strong arm the Moretown Select Board and take over Moretown's landfill. Our new district followed accepted wisdom and provided for free recycling, but it was never really free.

At first, we paid a regressive tax of $140 a ton to Chittenden County's new recycling facility. There, uncompacted recycling was bucket loaded onto a two-track conveyor system which was manually sorted by gloved $14/hour laborers who tried to push the correct product into bunkers below. Someone came and paid for the (unwashed) clear glass and took away the brown glass and the green glass was ground up and discarded. No bottles were reused.

An effort was made to match the on-site sorted paper to carefully sorted commercial paper delivered to the bunkers below, but the resulting piles were always cross-contaminated.

The newer single-sort recycling process has Canadian trucks take all the contaminated baled paper (after laborers remove exposed garbage) and ship it to a $60 million Canadian paper processing facility where this lowest of waste paper category is treated with chemicals to separate the nonwood fiber material and then this sludge (40 percent) is dewatered and landfilled. The remaining subsidized short wood fibers makes the worst quality paper which costs no less than the wonderful paper made from Adirondack pulp in Ticonderoga but meets U.S. 10 percent "recycling" standards.

As to the (primarily) unwashed glass, today it is all ground up and piled outside where the house-size piles can be seen from Google Maps aerial view (end of Avenue C, South Burlington). And, much much less than 1 percent of Vermont bottles are actually reused as bottles. Unwashed and thus contaminated plastic bottles are now ground up but never reused as milk bottles which must meet FDA requirements and use pure resin (South Burlington plastic bottle plant off Route 7).

The original recycling facility made its money from the unseen $140/ton fee and aluminum cans which were baled and lined the walls. Today, there are a few pathetic bales of primarily tin pie plates as the aluminum can distributors keep the cans and reap the profits from taxing poor people for their drinks.

Recycling accounts for approximately 6 percent of the state's total landfilled trash tonnage. If a New Jersey firm and its Montpelier advocates did not create a Vermont trash monopoly (by shutting down the Moretown double-lined landfill), compacted trash (one trip equals four trips of uncompacted recycling) could be locally landfilled (less trucking pollution) and produce electrical energy as its methane is burned.

Vermont recycling (except cardboard, batteries and metals) has always been a scam -- paid for by the poor so some preening Montpelier swells could strut around.

Doug Reed lives in Moretown and started what is now the Mad River Resource Management Alliance.

The Valley Reporter - serving Vermont's Mad River Valley since 1971