Officials Hope July 1 Mandate Will Boost Recycling

Jun 25, 2015

State officials have been working since 2012 to roll out a law designed to reduce the amount of recyclable materials going to landfills, and July 1 is the next major step in those efforts.

Speaking in Burlington from a podium made from re-purposed hardcover books, Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz announced the next change required by Act 148, which was signed into law in 2012.

"Wherever you right now can throw away trash, you have to have the same opportunity to recycle," she said.

Markowitz said she hopes it will improve Vermont's recycling numbers.

Despite the state's reputation of environmentalism, she says there's room for improvement in the percentage of recyclable materials that are actually recycled.

"One of the things we found is that recycling stagnated," she said. "[It's] stagnated really since the '90s at about 35 percent across the board."

The goal of the new mandate is to make it easier for Vermonters to recycle, but the Agency of Natural Resources doesn't have immediate plans to use its enforcement powers to ensure compliance, and there's not a lot the state can do to help cities and towns comply.

"There was a decision made by the legislature not to add a separate funding stream," she said. "We already have money available for technical assistance and for some limited support, but this is something that we gave communities time to plan for."

Statistics from a 2012 waste composition study by the Agency of Natural Resources show that more than 50 percent of what Vermonters send to landfills could be recycled of composted.

Markowitz said she hopes the renewed efforts with recycling will bring that amount down.

She hopes to bring the recycling rate above 50 percent, and said state policies have helped. The bottle bill, for example, has led to a recycling rate around 80 percent for returnable cans and bottles.

And the amount of trash going to the landfill is a concern, Markowitz said.

"For those of you who follow this maybe not-so-sexy issue of waste, you might know that we have only one landfill right now," she said. "It's way up in the Northeast Kingdom. It's got plenty of space in it, but if we keep just throwing everything away, it's going to fill pretty quickly. And that's expensive. It's an expensive way to manage things."

Officials are planning to conduct another waste composition study in the next few years, and they hope to see progress in the new data.

Correction June 29 11:55 a.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the recycling law does not give the Agency of Natural Resources enforcement authority. The agency has the authority to enforce compliance, but doesn't plan to use it immediately after the July 1 mandate.