Report: Vermont has potential to take waste diversion even further
- In a recently released Biennial Report on Solid Waste, Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) detailed progress on its diversion efforts and laid out plans to reduce the disposal rate for municipal solid waste 25% by 2022. This would mean bringing the state's annual disposal tonnage down from approximately 400,000 to 300,000, as reported by VTDigger.org.
- If these efforts are successful, the DEC projects that Vermont's MSW diversion rate would increase from 35% to 47% during that timeframe. This would require reducing the average daily per capita disposal rate from 3.62 pounds to 2.69 pounds.
- The DEC estimates that the MSW diversion rate could eventually be increased to 66%, with annual MSW disposal of around 200,000 tons, once the state's Universal Recycling Law is fully implemented. Product stewardship initiatives and targeted recycling efforts for materials such as textiles would also be required to reach those goals.
Vermont has reported positive results from its Universal Recycling Law so far, including a decrease in disposal rates and an increase in diversion. The state's evolving ban on organic waste at landfills has also led to a 40% spike in food donation and been cited as a model by other states such as New York that are pursuing similar policies. Starting in July, haulers and transfer stations will be required to accept food scraps and they will be banned from landfills entirely by 2020.
Even with full implementation of these plans, the DEC has recognized that it will need to tackle additional material categories to reach these high diversion goals. Textiles, tires and plastic film have all been identified as potential areas of focus and the agency expects to ask state legislators for new policies on household hazardous waste this year. Construction and demolition debris has also been highlighted as a separate but key area that will require new ideas if the DEC wants to make a significant dent in landfill tonnage.
Though Vermont is smaller than most states, its rural layout can make new collection programs challenging. The success so far is a testament to high levels of engagement from haulers, businesses and residents. More states looking to improve their own diversion rates can be expected to look at DEC's programs as a model for what is possible with this type of targeted, gradual approach.
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