From the General Manager – September 2018

Happy September! I hope you had a fulfilling summer and are enjoying the great weather and local harvest we count on this time of year. 

And Happy Birthday! The Co-op celebrated 46 years since we officially incorporated last Thursday. That’s a lot of good food, community and cooperation.

This month, with recent changes in the world of recycling, I thought it was a good time to assess what’s going on in terms of our community’s waste and resource streams. I contacted Cassandra Hemenway, Outreach Manager for Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District (CVSWMD) and folks from other food co-ops for my research. 

The big headline came in the spring when China tightened its quality standards for the recycling material it will accept. This was extremely disruptive given China’s importance to global markets. Out west, thousands of tons of recycling are ending up in landfills as a result. In the northeast, we are fortunate to have access to more domestic markets but there is more pressure on those markets, increasing expenses and driving down prices haulers receive. You may have already experienced this in the form of higher recycling fees.

Given this, consumers and organizations have even more motivation to keep our recycling free of contamination. While Chittenden Solid Waste does an admirable job sorting out trash from actual recyclables (check out this informative video), the bottom-line is absolutely we all must do our part in keeping the recycling stream clean. Cassandra explained the challenge of “wish-cycling”, or when well-intentioned people try to recycle items when we aren’t actually sure they are recyclable. According to Waste Management, nearly 1 in 4 items placed in a recycling bin can’t actually be recycled. The main culprits (items that should not be put in the recycling) are plastic bags, Styrofoam, coffee cups, tissues/napkins and food scraps.

The good news is that CVSWMD has been increasing the types of materials that can be recycled in Central VT through its Additional Recyclables Collection Center(ARCC) in Barre. Cassandra explained that there are established markets for things like pill bottles and toothpaste tubes but not on a large scale, so the goal is to develop them for the mainstream through programs like. Go here for hours of operation and a full list of what can be recycled and remember that at this stage, ARCC charges a fee ($2-$20) based on the volume of material you bring them.

Composting is the other key to keep resources out of our landfills. The deadline for all Vermont food scraps to be kept out of the waste stream is 2020 per Act 148. There are now food scrap drop offs at all transfer stations in Central Vermont. Last year the legislature took the onus off waste haulers to offer individual curbside pickup everywhere; the current focus is on residents in the more densely populated parts of the state along with businesses and institutions. CVSWMD is encouraging backyard composting and will be offering a free workshop in Barre on October 2.
Recycling and composting are well-established practices at our co-op. Last year we diverted 77% of all material away from the landfill including 46 gallons of bottle caps, 10 gallons of twist ties and a small mountain of cardboard. We send virtually all of the food scraps that cannot be eaten, generally more than 80 tons a year, to Vermont Compost in Montpelier or Grow Compost in Waterbury.

What can we do as grocery shoppers do support these efforts? Reusable bags, containers, water bottles and coffee cups are still the gold standard. Last year our co-op issued 217,641 credits for reused shopping bags, which translated to $10,882 in donations to the Montpelier Food Pantry. For prepared foods customers who want to take out, we offer Eco-containers which can be reused for items on our food bar. Purchasing items with minimal packaging, including bulk foods, produce and dine-in prepared foods, also makes a big difference in keeping materials out of either the waste or recycling streams.

Like everything else, recycling changes. Markets for the materials evolve or even disappear, such as happened when demand for recyclable black plastic evaporated earlier this year. China announced they will stop accepting additional recycled materials by the end of 2019. New U.S. recycling plants are being developed and India is apparently considering ramping up its recycling processing capacity. In the future, we can expect changes in demand for glass, plastics and other materials. Our best bet is to reduce our use of new materials, stay informed about current standards and Recycle Right.

See you in the aisles,