By Amanda Clement
Christmas morning with my family always begins with the traditional gift exchange. Each package tucked under the tree is labeled, wrapped in shiny paper, sealed with tape, and topped with a bow. Over the course of an hour or so, we take turns gleefully tearing paper and tossing it aside. We’re so wrapped up in the presents and feelings of the season, we don’t usually think about trash we’ve created, but it adds up. The EPA estimates that Americans create 25 percent more waste from Thanksgiving to New Year’s than any other time of the year. That amounts to an extra million tons of garbage each week!1
Wrapping paper contributes greatly towards holiday waste. According to a consumer report by Sundale Research, Americans spent $9.6 billion on gift wrap in 2010.2 If you estimate that most rolls of wrapping paper cost between $2 and $10, that’s a lot of paper. Most of it ends up in the landfill and unfortunately, overall, that’s where some (but not all) of it belongs. Plain wrapping paper is fine to re-use or recycle, but shiny or glittery wrap is trash once you’re done with it (the very properties that make it sparkle also make it non-recyclable).
You can start by reusing as much wrapping paper as possible. Each holiday season I hear the same story of my great-grandmother who made everyone unwrap their gifts very carefully so the paper could be used again and again; in my family this is unusual behavior, but now I emulate her and hope to be as thrifty and environmentally sustainable.
By thinking outside of the box and spending a little extra time planning you can find all sorts of wrapping materials you may already have. Here are some ideas to help get you started:
Of course, the most sustainable gift-wrapping option is no gift wrap at all, which may feel strange, but it is an option.
But you will be wrapping gifts this year try to reuse what you have and supplement those materials with items purchased second-hand. This way your gift doesn’t generate new waste. It is also important to remember that plastic bows, tape, and ribbon also cannot be recycled, look for a post on alternative decoration in the next few weeks. With a little creativity and thoughtfulness, we can all reduce our holiday waste this year.
Amanda Clement is serving as an ECO AmeriCorps member at the CVSWMD this year. Amanda is a life-long Vermonter who grew up in Fair Haven, VT. She has a BA in Environmental Studies and Political Science from Castleton University, and enjoys learning new things about the planet every day. When the world allows it, she enjoys travelling and has been to seven countries including New Zealand, Iceland, and Japan. Currently Amanda resides in Barre, and when she’s not serving, spends time hiking the local trails and trying to kill her many plants.
By Dora Chi
Watch how workers in a recycling facility in Chicago, IL are forced to remove improperly recycled plastic bags, which clog machinery. This is similar to what happens in Vermont.
Plastic bags CAN be recycled but not in your blue recycling bin. Solid waste workers have a name for bags (and similar items including hoses, wires and clothing) – “tanglers” – because that’s exactly what they do inside a single stream recycling facility. Thin, stretchy, plastic bags get caught inside machinery, forcing workers to shut down the facility to cut the bags out. Imagine how much money is lost shutting down a factory floor for an hour or more at a time.
Last year, when CVSWMD staff and I visited Chittenden Solid Waste District’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Williston, staff described going through the process of regularly shutting down the facility to cut “tanglers” out of the machines. Across the country, recycling workers are facing this dangerous and time-consuming process, as people continue to wish-cycle plastic bags in places that cannot take them.
Here’s how South Carolina-based recycling manager Brian Shea described it in an interview last July: “It's draining. It's effort to climb in and out of these screens on a daily basis, and it can really do some damage to the equipment and morale to the team."
So, how do you recycle plastic bags? On one hand, you can repurpose plastic bags as trash bags, dog poop bags and even creative DIY projects. You might even give them away via Front Porch Forum to someone who can repurpose them. If you’re ready to recycle the bags, especially as you switch to reusable bags in time for the July 1st plastic bag ban, just remember there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
The right way to recycle plastic bags in Vermont
Bring the following types of bags to a drop-off location near you. Make sure your bags are clean and dry. Your bags will most likely be recycled into decking and railing.
Do NOT put these bags in the plastic bag drop-off site
In-district plastic bag drop-off sites (updated 3/31/20)
To learn more about recycling plastic bags, visit: https://dec.vermont.gov/content/plastic-bags
Disclaimer: We are aware that, in some states, there are conversations or steps taken around postponing plastic bag bans as an added precautionary response to COVID-19. As of yet, the CDC has not issued guidance on this, and the Vermont Legislature has not put forth changes to the July 1st bag ban. We will update this post as needed.
by Dora Chi
On July 1, 2020, Vermonters are joining residents of seven other states in saying adieu to single-use, carryout plastic bags at stores and restaurants. Plastic bags, which can take an estimated 500 to 1000 years to decompose, usually wind up in landfills or littered somewhere, polluting soil and waterways, harming wildlife, or jamming recycling facilities when not properly recycled. The statewide “bag ban” is part of a growing global movement – in more than 120 countries! – to refuse and reduce our dependence on single-use plastics.
Come July, what if you forget your bag? It happens. Retailers can still sell recyclable paper bags at checkout for a minimum of 10 cents apiece. Some shops may also sell reusable totes or provide cardboard boxes in lieu of bags if you ask.
Otherwise, now is the time to start getting in the habit of bringing your own reusable bags (or basket, or box). So next time you're heading out the door, remember to do a "P.K.W.B." check. Phone. Keys. Wallet. Bags. The four things no one should ever leave home without.
It’s not a bad idea to start now, considering that many retailers already charge a small fee for single-use bags or offer you incentives when you bring reusable bags. Hunger Mountain Coop, for example, will donate five cents to the Montpelier Food Pantry.
Still, Vermonters are not completely bidding good riddance to all single-use plastic bags. While this “bag ban” doesn’t discriminate based on plastic thickness the way some bans do, it is a lot more nuanced than its nickname implies. Here’s what it does not cover:
CVSWMD did not play a role in writing or passing Vermont’s bag ban, but we hope it spurs changes in reuse habits and culture, and that it prompts us to think more about our finite resources and environmental footprints on an individual and community level.
It’s also worth noting that the July bag ban legislation tackles single-use plastic straws, stirrers and polystyrene in one fell swoop, hence why National Geographic calls it the “the most comprehensive plastic bags ban in the U.S.” The July deadline coincides with the Universal Recycling Law’s food scrap landfill ban, too. So, it's full steam ahead!
To learn more about Vermont's single-use plastics ban in July, visit: https://dec.vermont.gov/content/single-use-products-law
Dora Chi is the ECO AmeriCorps member at CVSWMD. She does a P.K.W.B. (Phone, keys, wallet, bags) check before she leaves for the day and always keeps a reusable bag in her coat pocket, just in case.
by Dora Chi
The holidays are a great time to dust off the mixing bowls, pop open the spice cabinet and whip up something delicious. Here are six tips on how to stay waste-conscious while you treat yourself and loved ones to something sweet this season.
1 . Explore bulk sections for ingredients
The bulk aisles at grocery stores and co-ops can contain a trove of dessert-making ingredients. Buying in bulk also enables you to buy the quantities you plan to use and therefore reduce waste. At my local co-op, I’ve found ground cinnamon (perfect for this use-it-up apple crumble) and almond flour (essential for macarons, if you’re up for the challenge). If your local bulk aisle offers peanut butter, you can even give these zero waste peanut butter cookies a try.
2. Make the most of your ingredients
Maximizing your ingredients helps to reduce food waste. For example, you can incorporate orange peel zest and juice into this orange pound cake with orange curd, or you can soak citrus peels in vinegar to create a non-toxic all-purpose cleaner. Or check out 7 ways you can use apple peels!
3. Upcycle jars into dessert gifts
Here’s a fun gift idea that repurposes old jars accumulating in your cupboard: fill them with dry ingredients of hot cocoa, cake or cookie mix to make a delicious gift.
4. Source locally
Shipping worldwide contributes to 3% of global greenhouse gases, which is more than what Canada or Brazil contributes. We can help change this trend by choosing locally-sourced ingredients like carrots (great for these zero waste carrot cake bites), eggs and milk.
5. Compost your food scraps
Common dessert ingredients like dairy are compostable in traditional home composting systems, and they are also accepted through food scrap drop-off and pick-up services. By July 1, 2020, all Vermont residents are required to divert food scraps from the trash bin.
6. Rescue leftovers
Got leftover ingredients? In addition to sharing with friends and family, you can use community forums like Front Porch Forum or apps like Olio to connect with neighbors who can put your ingredients to good use.
Dora Chi is an Eco AmeriCorps service member serving at the Central Vermont Solid Waste District from fall 2018 - summer 2019. Dora is an avid baker and Zero Waste enthusiast.
Written by Jan Lloyd
This past year I learned a lot about how overwhelming planning a wedding can be, even as simple as mine was. Being the Zero Waste Events Coordinator at the district – I thought I should do this RIGHT, and aim for Zero Waste at my own wedding! Having just written the district’s Zero Waste Events Guide, and doing all the research it took to compile – I had some ideas of where to start…
Since our wedding was to take place in our backyard – we didn’t have the use of a facility with a kitchen or dishware we could use, so we had to improvise. We also planned ahead for waste reduction. On our e-invite details (saves on paper and postage), we informed guests that we were trying to reduce waste and asked them to help out. Specifics were listed: not to bring ANYTHING disposable– namely plastic cups, utensils, unnecessary packaging, etc. We even asked them to bring a refillable water bottle (we also had saved many glass bottles for water in months prior). When it’s your wedding, people are pretty respectful of your wishes, no matter how wild they may seem!
For sorting waste streams, we reserved a Waste-Sorting Station with CVSWMD’s Bin Loan Program that was complete with signage and colored bins (recycling, trash, food scraps, and bottles). At the same time we reserved the Event Kit for all the dinnerware (cups, cutlery, dishes, linens).
Pre-planning also entails determining WHERE the waste goes at the end of the event. We planned on composting our own food scraps on-site, bringing the trash and recycling to a local hauler, and the redeemable bottles and cans to the redemption center. We did it ourselves, but if you are planning on going on a honeymoon, or just want the next day OFF, I suggest asking a local friend or family member to take them for you. Locating a trash hauler nearest your wedding site, and providing directions for the volunteer who’s taking it, are pre-planning actions you might need to take.
As we had several folks coming from afar who were helping with set-up, I arranged for a team to disperse the district’s trash, recycling, and compost, and bottle bins (2 sets each). Each bin came with easy to understand signage of “what-goes-in.” These sorting stations were strategically placed near the food tent and dishwashing area. We had a small canopy tent outside (near the garden hose) dedicated to washing, with the dishwashing station bins (also borrowed from the district). Tip: We had someone make an announcement on the mic for everyone to “pitch-in” and wash their own dishes, or be kind and wash a few when needed. People were more than willing to jump in and assist. The dishwashing tent became a late-night hang-out for night owls who needed something to do, other than dancing. I couldn’t believe how easy it was! Volunteers also went around and collected dirty dishes, leftover food, and bottles and cans. There was so much food leftover, but many guests took home food in takeout containers (saved for months prior).
Since ours was a backyard wedding, but had enough attendees to consider the impact on our septic system, we decided to build our own temporary toilet. I researched where the best location on the property would be based on town regulations and state recommendations for toilet siting. Since this was a temporary moldering toilet (pit-style) that would be filled in after the event, I did not need to get a permit. [I suggest going through your town manager, to ask about any regulations or permit you might need in your town]. As you can see from the photo, the frame was built upon two layers of straw bales, over a shallow pit (not too deep ~2’ is plenty for a 1-2 day event) and cloth was stapled for privacy. I also repurposed and old wooden toilet seat. We hung solar lights so the toilet was well lit at night. So many guests commented how nice it was! When it’s time to take it down – we’ll disassemble the framing, and simply cover the hole with several layers of that straw the base is constructed with. Easy!
Planning in advance for less waste certainly helped, and also made the clean-up post-wedding go more smoothly. Our wedding of 165 guests made a low impact on waste in August 2018. We generated only a half-bag of trash(!), a full bag of recycling, and a couple full totes of bottles and cans for redemption. I even had enough in bottle returns to pay for the recycling and trash that we took on our regular trash run, to the local hauler. Food waste went directly in our compost, and there were two full 5-gallon buckets. There was the usual after-party clean-up to collect, but luckily, we had a few campers to wrangle into helping do the last of the clean-up. Overall, it was a success!
Want to aim for Zero Waste at your wedding? Check out these pages:
Zero Waste Events page
Bin Loan Program
Or call 229-9383 x 102 for more info.
Written by Jan Lloyd
What do you imagine when you think of “Recycling”? Many people have assumptions about recycling, but not a lot of concrete information. If you want to recycle “right” (which means your items actually get recycled), then read on as we break down what recycling actually means and how it works.
It helps if you start by remembering that “recycle” really means “remanufacture.” If you hold that word in mind, then it’s easy: recycling is the remanufacturing of materials – breaking down a single material back into a “raw” material that can then be remanufactured into something new. It’s a good way to reuse our resources and avoid unnecessary virgin mining, but it’s not as good as not creating waste in the first place.
Also, remembering the “manufacturing” part of recycling should help you remember that the reason some materials get recycled while others do not is solely based on volumes available, and ability to collect, sort, and process.
Lots of things are "recyclable." But not all of them can be collected, sorted, and processed in the same way. Your recycling bin or cart is part of a collection system that we call Blue-Bin Recycling. (Some people call it "no-sort," "Zero-sort®," or "single-sort recycling.")
Blue-Bin Recycling in central Vermont typically goes to the regional sorting facility in Williston (the Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF), which is designed for specific items: Uncoated paper, cardboard, and clean containers (like bottles, jars, cans, and tubs). See the full list and print the handout, here.
One of concerns we hear most frequently sounds something like this: “Now that we don’t send our recycling to China – is it really being recycled?” The answer is simple: here in Vermont, our markets are in the U.S., based mainly on the West Coast. With the pressures of losing China’s recycling market, other states are forced to use already established markets in the U.S., including the same West Coast markets that Vermont has been using for years. This means that it’s more important than ever to reduce or eliminate contamination in recycling material, starting with your “blue bin”. As the markets become more high demand – so does the need for efficiency and ease of processing to help keep the quality high and the costs low.
What’s contamination? Contamination is anything that:
Other items CAN be recycled, but they don't belong in the blue bin. We call those “Special” or “Additional Recycling.” The Additional Recycling Collection Center in Barre accepts hard-to-recycle items, including batteries and fluorescent bulbs, but there are also quite a number of take-back locations across the state for those as well.
We also hold annual Hazardous Household Waste Collection Events in locations throughout the district to collect things like toxic cleaning products, tar, adhesives, and pesticides. To learn more about what hazardous waste is, or to find out about collections, visit this web page.
Put your good intentions to use – and practice recycling right! If you’re enthusiastic about reducing waste, save your Special recycling aside and take it to the ARCC (or combine loads with a neighbor or friend), for every few months. Make sure to check our ARCC webpage for an up to date list of what we accept, our hours, and fees.
Learn more about waste reduction, composting, and other programs on our website.
Learn more about the CSWD Materials Recovery Facility.
See the full list of mandated recyclables.
by Jan Lloyd, Zero Waste Events and Outreach Coordinator
Are you ready to reduce your waste this holiday season? Here are easy ways that you can aim for Zero Waste this year – from holiday parties, simple gifts that cut down on packaging, to wrapping gifts beautifully with no messy, wasteful pre-purchased wrapping paper.
Having a holiday party? Here are four ways to reduce waste at your holiday event:
Gift-giving tends to generate a lot of waste… Here’s some tips to reduce!
Reduce e-Waste over the holiday season!
Recycle your Christmas Trees!
Your live Christmas trees can be recycled! Learn about drop-off locations and curbside collections in your area, here.
by Bethany M. Dunbar
HARDWICK – Don’t throw away that broken bicycle! Or watch, or toaster, or piece of pottery.
Bring it to the first ever Hardwick Repair Café on Saturday, April 28. This event is being sponsored by the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, the Onion River Exchange, and the Center for an Agricultural Economy.
We will have at least two people who can fix bicycles, and at least eight other “fixperts” who can take a look at your electronic items, clothing, computer, and lots more. Please understand this repair café is free and the services are provided by volunteers. We make no guarantees that we can fix everything, but we’ll do as much as possible in the four-hour time frame.
Also – we will set up a Take Apart Table for the items that can’t be fixed. People will be able to indulge their curiosity about how things work.
As the Community Programs Manager for the Center for an Agricultural Economy, for the past four years I have seen a high level of excitement for ideas to reduce waste in Hardwick and the surrounding towns. Last year we worked with the Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, Hardwick Kiwanis, and Vermont Soap Company to break a world record for the most people washing dishes simultaneously during the town’s annual Springfest. It was a moment of glory when 345 people all washed their ceramic, glass and plastic plates and dishes at the same time. We came away from this incredible day with a collection of dishes and plates that can be used over and over again, saving the energy used to create paper and plastic items that would have been thrown into the trash after one use.
Here at CAE, the Vermont Food Venture Center composts its food scraps with the help of Black Dirt Farm in Stannard. In 2017 we recycled 39,528 pounds of food. This is the equivalent of not burning 1,756 gallons of gasoline. Every little bit counts as we seek creative ways to help conserve natural resources.
The Repair Café is one of the most creative methods we’ve heard of in Vermont! Our repair café was featured on Vermont Public Radio who congratulated us for this intriguing idea. As VPR put it, “The Fix Is In!”
On April 28, we have a great opportunity to save dozens of items from the landfill. Not only that, there will be opportunities to learn how to repair things. Even if it’s mostly by observation or by changing a mindset, this repair café will set the stage for more waste reduction in the future.
Examples of items to bring include bicycles, clocks and watches, small kitchen and home appliances, picture frames, lamps, electronics, textiles, pottery, ceramics, and porcelain, lamps, tools, toys, and more.
We’ll also have some coffee to enhance the café atmosphere and raffles going on. Prizes include a $25 gift card and jar of honey from Caledonia Spirits, and a Black and Decker Drill/Driver and 65 Piece Project Set.
The repair café will be at Hardwick Elementary School at 12 noon to 4 p.m. Please arrive with broken items by 3 p.m. so there will be time to fix your item before 4.
See you there! Dare to repair!
Check out the CVSWMD Repair Cafe webpage for more information, or contact Bethany Dunbar at email@example.com
Bethany M. Dunbar is the Community Programs Manager for the Center for an Agricultural Economy. She is the author of Kingdom's Bounty, a collection of photos and essays about farmers and food in the Northeast Kingdom. Her background is in dairy farming and journalism. She has a bachelor of science degree in education from Lyndon State College and lives in West Glover.
by Cara Stapleford, Eco-AmeriCorps service member at CVSWMD.
Cassandra Hemenway, CVSWMD Outreach Manager, Theron Lay-Sleeper, Outreach Coordinator and Dora Chi, CVSWMD's Eco AmeriCorps service member all contribute to this blog.