Food Collection in Brattleboro (VT)

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  • Community: Brattleboro, VT
  • Population: 11,765
  • Urban, suburban or rural: mixed urban/suburban
  • Median household income: $31,997
  • Roadside pickup/Drop-off: roadside pickup
  • Started: 2013
  • Payment: included in taxes
  • Mandatory: no

In 2013, Peter Gaskill from Triple T Trucking, which began picking up compostable recycling in 2004, decided to move forward on an opportunity in Brattleboro, their hometown. Brattleboro was already a solid-waste customer.

“In 2004, we started picking up organics because we saw a business opportunity and a resource that was being wasted. No one else was doing it and so we saw it as a service,” Gaskill says.

“With Brattleboro, we saw a density and an opportunity to pick up that material along with the other recycling. So we made a pitch to the town and they essentially picked us up on our offer,” he adds.

PAYT is an incentive

“It started out as an experiment with a very small number of households that were really interested,” according to Brattleboro Assistant City Manager Patrick Moreland, “and from there it has really grown.” Moreland says with the “transition to pay-as-you-throw (PAYT), it has become increasingly popular because if you remove that volume from your solid waste, it’s that many fewer PAYT bags you need to purchase.

“Since PAYT, there’s been, roughly speaking, a doubling of households participating in the curbside collection program and the tonnage of what is trash has been reduced by about half,” Moreland says, noting “a little bit of an increase in recycling bottles, cans and paper, but the change in organics collection and the drop in trash collection has been really stark.”

Monitoring quality with growth

Growth in the program continues smoothly, Moreland says. “Initially when the program got underway, it was very simple because the folks who participated were, shall we say, really die-hard composting fans. As new groups of people, perhaps some who are less motivated, have been brought into the program they’ve done a really outstanding job.

“There was some concern that, as we involved more and more people who were doing this strictly to keep their PAYT costs down, that perhaps the quality of the product would degrade,” Moreland says, “but the quality of the collected material has been about the same as it was in the initial stages of the program and so it’s been a really successful program that is continuing to enjoy popularity as it’s gone from a project of a couple of hundred households to something that involves several thousand households.”

Triple T takes its Brattleboro organics to the Windham County regional solid waste facility in Brattleboro, which is undergoing a transition from a MRF (materials recycling facility) to a transfer station and an expanded composting facility, according to Bob Spencer, Executive Director of the Windham Solid Waste Management District (WSW).

Changes in solid waste management

“Our composting operation here started because of Triple T’s work with Brattleboro,” Spencer says. “They were already bringing their recycling here, they asked if we could permit a composting site, and we did. So they could come to one location and dump bottles and cans, paper and cardboard, and organics.”

Spencer points out that, because Triple T was already trucking compostable material to a farm in Greenfield, MA, where they allowed paper and cardboard in the mix, WSW did too. “And that’s worked out well because the paper and cardboard supply the extra carbon I need to balance the nitrogen and the moisture to make a good mix and cuts in half what I have to spend on woodchips, which is a commodity.”

Act 146, Vermont’s mandatory recycling provision, requires that recyclables be collected by haulers at no additional charge, which, Spencer notes, is a big reason WSW is getting out of materials recycling. “It’s all single-stream recycling now, which is cheaper and easier for the haulers because they can put it all in one truck,” he says. But paper and cardboard that’s “soiled” by food doesn’t recycle well, so it’s better for it to end up as “bulk” in his compost, Spencer adds.

Cost as a factor of density and distance

Part of what makes Triple T’s contract with Brattleboro work, Gaskill explains, is the population density and being able to pick up a lot of material on shorter routes.

"We're pretty much a rural state and I can see this [roadside collection] in the more dense areas like Brattleboro and a few others. And then everybody’s on board where you got that kind of density,” he says.

In Brattleboro, Moreland explains, they collect the compost at the same time as they collect other recyclables. “Triple T has made some adjustments to their vehicles such that on one side they can collect bottles and cans and such and on the other side they collect household organics. So it’s done on the same day that trash collection occurs in a different truck.”

Starting ahead of time

Moreland believes the city will be in a good position when Act 146 reaches its final stage in 2020. “We’re a little ahead of the game in terms of having a curbside collection program.

"we've been having our material composted at the Windham County regional solid waste facility, and we’re looking at the potential for a long-term contract with that facility to continue sending our compost material to them. They have been composting for years now and using the material from Brattleboro’s curbside collection program as the basis for that.

“I believe that the facility sees the expansion of compost as one of its main future endeavors. As Act 146 becomes increasingly important in terms of the number of properties required to provide some sort of solution for organic material, they see themselves as being a key part of the solution in the this region.

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