Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Times Argust on Sept 8, 2015.
Vermont’s recycling and composting initiative, Act 148, implemented a milestone phase this summer when the landfill ban on recyclables kicked in July 1.
Ever since then, we’ve been busy over at the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District. As the media picked up on the fact that listed recyclables are now illegal to landfill, we received phone call after phone call with questions. Some people had never recycled before, and wanted to know how to start. Others described themselves as avid recyclers, but had detailed questions about specific materials.
Here is a sampling of some typical recycling questions, and our recommendations. Please note: these are real questions. We didn’t make this up. Names have been withheld for confidentiality.
Q: I recycle at work but my kids make it impossible to recycle at home. How can I get them on board?
A: If your kids live in the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District then they are learning about recycling at school through our School Zero Waste Program. So no matter what they say at home, this isn’t news to them! (Some of the kids we know are the ones who START recycling in their homes and end up teaching their parents how to do it). That said, the quickest path toward recycling success is convenience and simplicity.
We recommend you set up a recycling bin (this can even be just a small box) beside every trash receptacle in your home. This will make it very easy for you and your kids. They don’t have to do anything different except toss the can or bottle into a different bin.
Secondly, hang up a sign or poster that shows what is recyclable. Tape one to each recycling box, or post one on your refrigerator. We offer a flier with pictures of all the materials that must be recycled, available for download at cvswmd.org.
Q: My roommate does not seem to know how to recycle properly. … Do you have a poster-sized version of your list of what can be recycled? You could save me from that awkward “what’s wrong with you?” conversation.
A: CVSWMD has downloadable fliers featuring all the listed recyclables at cvswmd.org. It’s also easy to remember that there are just six items now required to stay out of the trash: paper, aluminum, cardboard, steel, glass and hard plastics. I’m sure your roommate will catch on as soon as you demonstrate how easy it is. Also, hang several of the fliers around the apartment. She’ll get the hint.
Q: Do you know of anywhere I can recycle a large quantity of plastic buckets with metal handles?
A: Plastic buckets, while made of recyclable material, are considered a “bulky plastic” and are too large to go into the regular recycling stream. Some regions do have special collections of bulky plastics, but in central Vermont we have not found an economical way to do this, yet. However, I’m sure you can get rid of your plastic buckets by posting a notice on Front Porch Forum and giving them away. Reuse makes better use of the material than recycling anyway.
Q: We work in a Montpelier office and are trying to make sure we will be compliant with the new recycling guidelines. I downloaded your sheet of “what must be recycled” at cvswmd.org. The list on the bottom says “no filmy plastic bags, no paper plates & cups, no Styrofoam, no pill bottles, no milk cartons,” etc. Will this “not to be recycled” list still apply to the new standards?
A: Yes, the items marked “do not recycle” still apply. While our flyer features what MUST be recycled, we also highlight some common items that should not go into the recycle bin.
Filmy plastic bags, for example, are actually made out of recyclable plastic (You can take them to most grocery store collections for recycling) but the bags clog up machinery at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Williston where our central Vermont recyclables go to get sorted; so these materials should stay out of the bin. It’s important to pay attention to what not to recycle as well as what should be recycled.
Another reason for highlighting specific materials to keep out of the recycle bin is that they can contaminate the final load. While machines and people sort the recyclables that come into the MRF, contaminants (non-recyclable materials) can still make their way in. If too many of them end up in the final, baled load, it can make selling the material to manufacturers difficult. Recycling is economical and successful when it remains contaminant-free.
Feel free to call us with more of your questions at 229-9383 or toll free 800-730-9475. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org questions or for more information.
Cassandra Hemenway, CVSWMD Outreach Manager, Charlotte Low, Outreach Coordinator, Cara Stapleford CVSWMD Eco-Americorps Service Member and Jan Lloyd, Zero Waste Events Coordinator all contribute to this blog.