Waste district mulls plans for new mass recycling facility

LISA SCAGLIOTTI
Correspondent

Sites in Williston and South Burlington are on a short list for possible locations for Chittenden County’s next-generation mass-recycling facility that could be built within the next several years. 

That was one of several key issues discussed at the Chittenden Solid Waste District’s June 26 Board of Commissioners meeting in Williston.

The board also heard some cautiously optimistic news about short-term improvements expected in recycling markets and it addressed concerns from officials from Newport regarding a state investigation into how the district handles glass. 

Josh Tyler, the district’s assistant engineer and project manager, made presentations on “all things MRF” – using the acronym for “materials recovery facility” which is where unsorted paper, plastic, glass and metal are trucked, dumped, and sorted for recycling.

Tyler’s message was twofold: Near-term, the global crunch in recycling markets is expected to ease up as more U.S. plants expand their capacity to process paper and plastic. Long-term, the district is moving ahead with a methodical process to find a suitable location to build a new MRF.

Market news

Tyler recapped how in the past 12-18 months, international trade restrictions and policy changes have caused upheaval in global recycling, resulting in a glut of material and a steep drop in recyclable prices for raw material on the world market.

As a result, the district July 1 increased its recycling tipping fee from $55 to $65 per ton for haulers, Tyler said. That’s still less than the $95-100 per ton that facilities in Rutland and Albany, N.Y. charge, he noted. Number-crunchers at the district may consider an additional increase to $75 per ton later in the year depending on market conditions, but Tyler said trends are improving.

“There’s brighter days ahead of us,” he said.

In the next six to 18 months, more domestic options for processing paper are expected including facilities in Maine and West Virginia – better alternatives to processors in South Korea or the Philippines, Tyler said.

Build a better MRF

Tyler also detailed the process to decide where to build a new materials recovery facility.

The current MRF in Williston handles recyclables from around Chittenden County and Northern Vermont but it is limited in layout and technology as recycling methods and markets have evolved significantly since it was constructed, Tyler said.

Last fall, the district began looking at 30 possible locations using zoning maps provided by the Chittenden Regional Planning Commission. Tyler said that list recently was narrowed down to five: property owned by Global Foundries in Williston, South Burlington sites in Technology Park and Meadowlands Industrial Park, a large site along U.S. Route 7 in Milton, and property the waste district owns on Redmond Road in Williston.

The criteria are specific. The location must be at least 12-18 acres, zoned for industrial development, situated away from residential neighborhoods, but close to highways.

Given that, Tyler told the board that there are just two top options now – possibly three. The Meadowlands location and the district’s own property warrant further study. Technology Park was not interested and the Milton location too far from the population core, Tyler said. A representative from Global Foundries contacted Tyler just a few hours before the district board meeting and expressed interest in hearing more.

The next steps will involve calculating costs.

“We’ll bring you more information in the fall,” Tyler told the board.

Ongoing investigation

The board welcomed local officials from the city of Newport which is its own solid waste district sending recyclables to the Chittenden district’s MRF facility.

Newport officials have expressed concern about reports that the Chittenden Solid Waste District has used crushed glass as fill along roads and embankments on its property in Williston. The state Waste Management and Prevention Division of the Agency of Natural Resources in April notified the waste district that its handling of crushed glass violated state regulations. 

The matter was referred to the Attorney General’s office where Rob McDougall, chief of the environmental protection division, said that the case is under review and that he could not comment further. In general, he said, the division aims to resolve environmental enforcement cases before going to court.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette said visiting the waste district’s Williston headquarters and recycling facility prior to the board meeting helped his group better understand the district’s processes, but they are eager to hear the outcome of the glass matter.

“It’s still a concern for us,” he said.

District officials point to state regulations that allow for crushed glass to be used in transportation, construction and other projects. They say their glass-handling met state requirements.

“We’re talking about an alleged violation which we dispute was a violation at all,” board Chair Michelle DeVia said. “And we’re in the process of working with the Agency of Natural Resources… There was never a claim by this organization that we were turning the glass into bottles.”

Board members discussed the public misconception that glass bottles and jars are recycled into new containers. Tyler in his presentation showed slides from the MRF showing glass crushed to the consistency of coarse sand. He said the district produces about 6,600 tons of the material each year.

Richmond’s protest “No” vote   

The board briefly discussed the recent vote by the Richmond Selectboard against approving the waste district’s $12.6 million fiscal 2020 budget which went into effect July 1. Richmond officials took issue with the district ending its Reuse Zone at the Richmond Drop-off Center where people could swap items rather than put them in the trash.

District officials said the area posed traffic and safety concerns and took up staff time. District Executive Director Sarah Reeves and Richmond commissioner Logan Hegg said they would meet with town officials to try to find an alternative.

New leadership

The waste district’s board of commissioners elected new officers at the June meeting: Michelle DeVia of Westford as chair; Alan Nye of Essex Junction as vice chair; Jericho commissioner Leslie Nulty as treasurer, and the district’s Director of Administration Amy Jewell as secretary.

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