Vermont temporarily eases recycling and organics requirements
- Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott recently signed multiple bills that recognize industry concerns about market conditions in the state, as reported by VT Digger. The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) can now "suspend the application of the landfill disposal ban" on mixed paper, per a last-minute amendment to a clean water bill, until July 2019.
- A separate bill about Vermont's universal recycling requirements further delayed the implementation schedule of the state's organics collection plan. The deadline for all service providers to begin offering residential organics collection has been moved to July 2020, from July 2018.
- Updates were also made to fee structures, leaf and yard waste collection requirements and the state's container redemption program. One notable change is that unclaimed deposits will now go into a state-managed fund for clean water projects.
Vermont's 2012 Universal Recycling Law is among the most ambitious in the country, and has already led to early successes, but that still doesn't make the state immune from market realities. Like others in the region, Vermont's MRFs have been hit hard by low prices for mixed paper due to China's import restrictions and still face limited market options.
CEO John Casella, of locally based Casella Waste Systems, told Waste Dive in April he thought this material might even need to be dropped from recycling programs if the situation didn't turn around. Casella operates the largest MRFs in Vermont as well as others throughout the Northeast. In May, during the company's quarterly earnings call, Casella said mixed paper prices were down by 90% YoY and he expected the situation could get worse if other developing Southeast Asian markets became saturated.
Since then, global and local news stories have indicated that continues to be the case. If ANR does end up approving mixed paper disposal over the next year, that will make Vermont one of a small, but growing, number of state or local governments that have done the same. Whether market conditions will have improved by any degree once that authority expires in 2019 remains unpredictable.
As for the organics implementation change, that can also be taken as a small victory for local service providers. While commercial requirements are in effect, and some residential collection is already occurring, the main concern is how this will work in rural areas. Companies such as Casella have previously said rural residential collection would be too expensive and inefficient.
Based on this pushback, the legislature previously approved a one-year delay of the requirement from its original July 2017 start date. There had been discussion this year of scrapping the requirement entirely, but the additional delay appears to have quelled that. Now, even with all of these changes and lingering skepticism from some in the industry about whether the concept is economically feasible, Vermont is still on track to ban food waste from landfills by July 2020.
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