Opinion – Chittenden Solid Waste needs new materials recovery facility

We are a state full of committed citizens who care about the future of our planet and the preservation of our natural world. Every day, we make individual decisions that, when taken collectively, really make a difference. Especially when it comes to recycling.

While recycling is second nature to many of us, there’s a lot more that happens once your blue bin is picked up or taken to a drop-off center. All that material — upwards of 50,000 tons per year — is taken to the materials recovery facility in Williston where your blue bin materials are sorted and prepared for market. Vermonters make individual decisions to recycle, and the materials recovery facility captures these recycled items to create a collective system that diverts tons of materials from the landfill.

As I enter my second year as Chair of the Chittenden Solid Waste District board of commissioners representing Underhill, I’ve been able to peek behind the curtain and learn a lot about how recycling works in Vermont, and how impactful it really is. I’ve also been well acquainted with the issues that our current materials recovery facility is facing.

This facility is nearly 30 years old and suffers many of the inefficiencies that come with something that age. Believe it or not, much of the material is sorted by hand — hardly necessary in today’s world where much more efficient technology exists.

Plus, the materials recovery facility is at maximum capacity, bursting at the seams with materials you so carefully divert from the landfill. Bales that should be stored under cover are left outside in all kinds of weather, degrading their value while waiting to be sold to companies that turn the material into new products.

And the lack of innovation at the current materials recovery facility limits the type of materials that Chittenden Solid Waste District can accept. Vermonters want to recycle, and they want to recycle as much as possible. They would be able to do more with a new facility.

This November, the voters of Chittenden County can solve the capacity issues and the lack of innovation at the materials recovery facility. Chittenden Solid Waste District is requesting a bond of no more than $22 million to build a new, innovative materials recovery facility that will have the technology and space to handle our recyclables for decades to come.

And while Chittenden Solid Waste District is a municipality and the materials recovery facility is publicly owned, the cost of the new materials recovery facility will be paid back through Chittenden Solid Waste District operational revenue — with no charge to taxpayers.

Let me repeat: there will be no property tax increase to build the new materials recovery facility.

The new and improved materials recovery facility will be more efficient and equipped with the kind of modern technology that not only separates recyclables more effectively but expands the list of materials we can accept for recycling.

And it will also pave the way for better, highly skilled jobs for Chittenden Solid Waste District’s employees. The current lack of space that leaves bales piling up outside will not only be solved with a 40 percent increase in capacity, the new materials recovery facility will allow for growth over the next 30 years.

The state-of-the-art technology will not only do a better job with the materials and packaging that are recycled now, but it will also allow Vermonters to recycle more and allow the materials recovery facility to adapt and recycle new materials and types of packaging that don’t even exist yet. This is truly forward-thinking and necessary if we are to keep up with what Vermonters expect when they put recyclables in their blue bins.

Efficiency, innovation and flexibility are all critical components in the fight against climate change. The new materials recovery facility will allow us to recycle more efficiently, conserving natural resources and helping reduce Vermonters’ carbon footprint. The new materials recovery facility will be able to process up to 70,000 tons (140 million pounds) of recyclables every year. That’s huge. It is equivalent to removing 52,500 passenger vehicles from the road. Recycling all these materials saves 634,000 trees from being cut down every year.

Every day we’re faced with choices that impact our state and our world. Vermont is community minded. We think carefully about how our actions affect the greater good. Now is the time to build a new materials recovery facility that can process more and more recyclable materials and keep them out of the rapidly-filling landfill in Coventry.

You can make a real, tangible difference in our state and for our planet. This November, please vote “yes” on the bond issue for the new materials recovery facility.

(Paul Ruess lives in Underhill and is chair of the Chittenden Solid Waste District board of commissioners.)