The Chittenden Solid Waste District should have sought Act 250 approval before putting thousands of cubic yards of crushed glass by their compost area and an old gravel and sand pit, state land use regulators say.
But the district maintains that it was legally using the aggregate, which is too contaminated to be turned back into bottles, as construction fill.
Last week, officials refused a request by the district to reconsider the decision. Regulators say it doesn’t matter whether or not the material was technically fill material — the scope of the projects was large enough that they needed to go through the permitting process.
Vermont has 16 solid waste districts that work to reduce waste and ensure adequate regional access to recycling, composting and trash disposal facilities. The Chittenden Solid Waste District owns one of the state’s two material recovery facilities, also referred to as a MRF, in Williston. The facility sorts most of northern Vermont’s single stream, or “blue bin,” recyclables.
Glass has proved a challenging material to recycle for material recovery facilities around the country — it can shatter in blue bins, create wear and tear on processing equipment and does not have a strong commodity market. This has led some municipalities to ban glass from single stream recycling.
In April 2018, the Agency of Natural Resources sent the Chittenden Solid Waste District a notice of alleged violation for disposing of “thousands of cubic yards of discarded crushed glass” at two sites by the closed town landfill and the district’s composting facility in Williston. The alleged violations were for disposal outside a certified facility and for failing to accurately report it to the state.
The district contends that the material was actually “processed glass aggregate,” which is crushed, clean glass that meets certain standards. They say it was used to control erosion by an access road to the closed landfill and as subgrade material for its compost facility — uses the solid waste district claims are allowed under state regulations. The district is no longer putting the glass aggregate at either location, and is instead paying to send it to a quarry in Colchester.
Sean McVeigh, chief environmental enforcement officer with ANR, performed a site inspection on May 4, 2018, with Brian Wright, facilities manager for the Chittenden Solid Waste District who is no longer listed as a staff member on the district’s website. The tour began at a pile of processed glass aggregate by an old sand and gravel pit by the closed landfill, according to a copy of an investigation report obtained through a public records request.
“Simply put, the pile is very large,” wrote McVeigh, who estimated that pile to be 225 feet long, 90 feet wide at the top and 40 feet tall.
Wright told him they started putting processed glass aggregate there around three years before the 2018 tour to protect the slope from eroding, although he also went on to say that the slope was stable and had not previously eroded. McVeigh asked him whether he agreed that he had previously said the driving force for lining the slope was that the district had too much crushed glass, according to the incident report.
Wright responded that while he used “too much material,” he had put the glass aggregate there as an embankment.
McVeigh also visited an area of the closed landfill where the solid waste district had lifted up the landfill liner to put some of the glass material — a use that requires state approval, which Wright said he did not recall receiving, according to the inspection report. McVeigh said the “unpermitted landfill repair” consisted of at least 1,000 cubic yards of processed glass over 0.3 acres.
The district also put the crushed glass on about an acre of land to level off ground used for its expanding compost processing.
In May, John Brabant, a former solid waste regulator who is now the regulatory affairs director for the nonprofit Vermonters for a Clean Environment, requested that the District 4 Environmental Commission decide whether Chittenden Solid Waste District should have obtained a permit for the alleged glass disposal.
In August, the commission issued an opinion that the district needs to retroactively apply for an Act 250 permit as the activities did not fit under its existing land use permits.
Mark Hall, an attorney with Paul, Frank and Collins representing the waste district, filed a request for reconsideration, saying that the Act 250 coordinator “improperly concluded” that the district needed a permit by relying on statements in ANR’s alleged violation that the material was solid waste.
Last week, Rachel Lomonaco, district coordinator for the District 4 Environmental Commission, denied the district’s request for consideration. She stated that regardless of whether the material was technically processed glass aggregate or not, the glass placement was significant enough to require an Act 250 permit.
“The make-up of the material is not a central issue in determining whether a material change to an existing development has occurred,” she wrote in her response.
Lomonaco also took issue with Chittenden Solid Waste District’s characterization that using the glass material as an embankment was allowed under the district’s solid waste permit. She states in her response that while engineering inspection reports of the area say that the district may need to take “typical housekeeping” to address minor erosion, the engineering reports do not suggest that large embankments would be needed to shore up the roadway.
“There is no convincing evidence…in the Act 250 record that the use of glass material is allowable or was even contemplated for repair maintenance activities,” Lomonaco wrote.
Sarah Reeves, executive director of the Chittenden Solid Waste District, said that the district will file an appeal with the environmental court. The district also is debating filing an Act 250 permit amendment, she added.
Reeves stressed that the district invested half a million dollars in a glass processing system to clean glass so it can be used as aggregate for construction projects. She added that there is a general misunderstanding that glass recycled through blue bin recycling can be turned back into glass bottles.
“The only container glass that has the potential to be turned back into a new bottle is glass that is collected and sorted through the bottle bill system,” she said.
CSWD and other, including environmental advocates, have pushed for an expansion of Vermont’s bottle bill program, or redemption center recycling. Bottle bill recyclables are presorted and less contaminated. Reeves also said that the dearth of glass manufacturers means there’s “little incentive” for them to take anything but premium “bottle bill” glass.
A 2018 survey of Northeast material recovery facilities found that 54% of reported glass is sent to processors for further cleaning, 38.37% is used at landfills and 0.02% is sent directly to container manufacturers. Respondents said it is a challenge to recycle glass because of the wear and tear on equipment, contamination, lack of markets and cost.
Vermont’s other material recovery facility — owned by Casella Waste Systems in Rutland — received approval from ANR last year to use recycled glass in construction projects at the Coventry landfill, according to a state report.
Meanwhile, the Agency of Natural Resources has forwarded an investigation into the alleged violation to the state Attorney General’s Office. Rob McDougall, chief of the environmental protection division for the attorney general, said the division is reviewing the matter, but could not comment further.