After 22 Years of Operation, Member Towns Vote to Close Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Costs of Recycling Shifts to Towns
By Bob Spencer, Executive Director 12/12/16
Since 1994, WSWMD has operated a materials recovery facility, or MRF, to sort, bale, and market recyclable materials collected from member towns, as well as from “out-of-district” towns. At the Board of Supervisors meeting on December 8, 2016, the Board voted to cease operation of the MRF at of the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2017.
The decision to close the MRF was controversial, but has been carefully studied by District staff and Board members for the past two years as single-stream recycling has become increasingly popular with trash haulers, and the towns they serve. This is due to the fact that all recyclable materials can be put in one container, and collected with conventional trash trucks rather than special trucks with two compartments; one for paper/cardboard, and the other for bottles and cans. This results in lower collection costs for recyclables as mandated by Vermont’s Act 148 (For more information, see Vermont's Universal Recycling Law, Act 148).
However, one big unknown is how much the owners of single stream MRFs will charge towns and haulers for processing single stream recyclables since they too have high operating costs, and uncertain revenues from the sale of recyclable materials. There are communities in Vermont where the cost of recycling single stream is comparable to the cost of trash disposal.
There are three towns in the District with curbside trash and recycling collection, and two of them, Vernon and Westminster collect single-stream recyclables, and therefore their recyclables have not been going to the District’s MRF. On Tuesday, December 6, the Brattleboro Selectboard voted to switch to single stream recycling, diverting over 20% of the total tons of recycling processed at the District’s dual stream MRF to Casella’s single stream MRF in Rutland, Vermont. Due to the fixed costs of operating the District’s MRF, and the loss of revenue associated with the diverted recyclables, the economic viability of the District’s MRF is greatly reduced, and therefore the Board of Supervisors voted 13 to 10 to close the facility.
By the end of June, the District will have removed recycling roll-off boxes from transfer stations in Dover, Jamaica, Readsboro, Townshend, Wardsboro, Whitingham, and Wilmington. The 24-7 recycling roll-off containers will also be removed from Brattleboro’s Fairground Road, Brookline, Dummerston, Halifax, Marlboro, Newfane, Putney, Vernon, and Westminster. Recycling containers will still be available for use by District residents at the recycling convenience center at 327 Old Ferry Road.
The seven transfer station towns are required by state law to provide recycling services, and will therefore contract with private haulers to provide recycling services at transfer stations. The nine towns with 24-7 roll-off containers are not required by state law to provide recycling since those locations do not accept trash, but will have the option of continuing those containers with a private hauler. The cost to towns for contracting for recycling services will shift to the town’s budget, rather than through the annual tax assessment from the District.
The District’s December 8 meeting approved a FY 2018 “No MRF/No Trucking” budget that incorporates a lower tax assessment to the member towns, which is made possible as a result of closing the MRF, and no longer trucking recyclables from the towns.
The “No MRF/No Trucking” budget that was approved also includes a one-time charge to member towns for closing the MRF, which entails operating for at least the month of July to process all of the recyclable materials that will be trucked to the MRF in June, clean and moth-ball the facility, and provide employees who work until the facility is closed a one-month retention bonus. Approximately 8 or 9 employees will be laid off, leaving a core group of 5-6 employees.
Since the MRF will be closed, the District’s recycling containers will also be converted to single stream recycling, and a private hauler will take the materials to Casella’s MRF in Rutland.
For ardent recyclers who self-haul their trash and recyclables to the District, the annual cost for trash and recycling at the District’s convenience center can be less than $100 per year, considerably less expensive than hiring a private hauler to collect trash and recyclables at the curb, which is typically about $40/month.
District residents can purchase a sticker for just $25 per year to use the District’s convenience center for trash and construction & demolition debris disposal. The fees for use of the facility are posted on the District website (please see Materials Accepted & Fees).
As for the future of the District without the dual stream MRF, the Board of Supervisors will be focusing on implementation of a 5 Mega-Watt solar photo voltaic system that starts operation in the summer of 2017, providing significant savings on electricity costs for member towns and schools for 20 years or more.
Another priority is to expand the District’s food and yard waste composting facility to serve a growing number of businesses, schools, and residents in accordance with Act 148 mandates. It is possible that the District will develop a food waste methane anaerobic digester that would generate electricity, replacing the closed landfill’s diminishing supply of methane gas.
The District meets the 2nd Thursday of each month at 7 PM, and the public is invited to attend the meetings. In addition, the District has three sub-committees; finance, personnel/policy, and executive.