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Newport Mayor Questions If Glass Sent To Chittenden Was Dumped, Not Recycled

A man sits at a table surrounded by people.
John Dillon
/
VPR
Northeast Kingdom trash hauler Pat Austin brought his concerns about glass recycling to a meeting of the Senate Natural Resources Committee in May.

The city of Newport and a Northeast Kingdom trash hauler have raised concerns that the glass they paid to recycle was dumped instead.

­­­­­The mayor of Newport has complained to the Chittenden Solid Waste District about the issue. But the district says the trash glass is being handled correctly.

Northeast Kingdom trash hauler Pat Austin vented his frustration in early May at a state Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing called to discuss glass recycling.

He said Act 148, Vermont's mandatory recycling law, is outdated because of upheavals in the global market. Over the last several years, China, once the world's largest buyer, has rejected recyclable products from North America.

"You should be really concerned about what's happening with the recycle stream, because this law was put into play when China would take anything," Austin said.

China's decision was a game-changer in the regional recycling market. But glass recycling has been problematic for years. There just isn't much demand for discarded wine bottles and jelly jars.

Austin also brought up more local concerns. He told the Senate panel that, under the law that bans glass from landfills, he has to pay to ship his glass to a recycling center like the Chittenden Solid Waste District.

He added that the glass was not recycled, but was improperly dumped for a time at an old landfill owned by the district.

"The people pushing that policy – I'm not accusing anybody – but the people pushing that policy were making my customers think that it was being re-used," Austin said. "And that's a problem for me."

The state is investigating the allegations, and the case was referred to the Vermont attorney general's office.

Austin's concerns are shared by the city of Newport. Mayor Paul Monette recently wrote the Chittenden Solid Waste District to ask for a full accounting of how it handles the glass that Newport sends.

"If you look at all the information and the violation, it appears they [Chittenden Solid Waste District] have just been dumping it into their old closed landfill, which to me is not acceptable." — Newport Mayor Paul Monette

"Basically, all of our glass, since we started recycling, hasn't been recycled," Monette said. "If you look at all the information and the violation, it appears they’ve just been dumping it into their old closed landfill, which to me is not acceptable, especially since we just received a letter from the district increasing our fee by $10 a ton."

Michele Morris, the district’s director of outreach and communications, said the crushed glass was used for a time to stabilize a road and a bank at the old landfill. But she added that the practice was stopped more than a year ago after the district got the notice from the state about an alleged violation.

Now the crushed and cleaned glass is mixed with material from a local quarry for use in construction and road projects, Morris said. Some of the glass is also shipped to Canada for further processing.

The district has to pay to get rid of the glass, and both methods are approved by the state, Morris said. She added that the environmental enforcement case is still unresolved, but that the attorney general is not investigating.

The attorney general confirmed that it has the case, though did not say when it would be resolved.

"The agency [of Natural Resources] is the one coming onsite, and looking at everything and interviewing staff," Morris said. "The AG's office just has more flexibility in how they can determine an end result."

Meanwhile, she said the district has responded to Newport's concerns with a letter that spells out how the glass is being handled.

"We just want to assure them, assure Mayor Monette and the residents of Newport and anybody up in that area, that we have been using this material appropriately." — Michele Morris, Chittenden Solid Waste District

"We just want to assure them, assure Mayor Monette and the residents of Newport and anybody up in that area, that we have been using this material appropriately, and we're describing ... how we've used it," Morris said. "And we recognize that everybody that uses our material recovery facility is concerned about increasing tip fees."

She added that there's a common misunderstanding that glass sent to a single stream recycling center like the one in Chittenden County gets made into new glass bottles or containers. That rarely happens.

Morris said that glass beer bottles have a better chance of being turned into new bottles, because these containers are separated by color and are easier to process.

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