Stowe transfer station

Stowe transfer station employees Keith Bradley and Joshua Stowe sort through cans and bottles. The redemption center is closed, but people have been donating their cans and bottles to charity. As this photo suggests, things are a little backwards these days.

The Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District was able to contribute $6,677 this month to local organizations, raised from the empty cans and bottles people returned.

That’s 133,540 nickels.

The money was split evenly between the United Way Relief Fund and Lamoille Community Food Share.

The trash district reached that sum in about three months, since March 28, when the Stowe transfer station closed its bottle redemption center so it could follow social distancing rules.

According to district general manager Susan Alexander, that’s as much as is donated in a regular year.

“We try to help organizations that help the larger community,” Alexander said.

She said the Stowe transfer station boasts the state’s only waste management district-run redemption center.

“The beauty of it is it’s kind of one-stop shopping,” she said. “People are saying, ‘We’ll just dump them here instead” of taking their cans and bottles to a private redemption center.

Alexander said the transfer station staff count and sort the cans and bottles after hours “in a quiet and closed period when nobody’s there.” She said waste management employees are often the unsung heroes among essential workers.

“They have to show up for work every day and wear a mask, like you do at the grocery store or the hospital,” she said. “No national leaders are singing the praises of trash collectors, but they are essential businesses.”

As of this week, most services at the Stowe transfer station are back. The exceptions: the redemption center and the re-use area. Alexander said it could be a while before those two areas come back online, not with coronavirus strictures in place.

She said the recycling area is open to one-way foot traffic only, and the exit is through the redemption center area. It would be difficult to undo that system, which is working well for the transfer station.

Adapting to new rules

Even as Vermont waste management districts have had to adapt to coronavirus rules, they’ve had to help people adapt to new trash laws that went into effect July 1: a ban on plastic bags and Styrofoam containers and a ban on food scraps in household trash.

When it comes to the bag ban, the district is taking an educational approach to try to keep those verboten items out.

The food scraps rules — the culmination of Act 148, Vermont’s universal recycling law passed in 2012 and slowly rolled out over the years — have been occupying much more of the district’s energy. She said she doesn’t “hear a lot of grumbling” about the changes, except on social media. A lot of new gardeners are interested in composting anyway, and small companies have sprouted up that will come pick up your food scraps for you.

The district spent $250,000 on creating its own compost site, Lamoille Soil in Johnson. It opened in 2017.

It’s proved popular, so much so that the district has sold out of compost, as well as green food scrap buckets and backyard composting kits. Before July 1, the district was hauling 13 totes a week from Stowe to Johnson. This past week, that number topped 30, according to Alexander.

She said Lamoille Soil site operator Chris Duff plans to have new piles of compost ready by the end of the summer.

“He’s the alchemist,” she said. “He turns these food scraps into this beautiful product.”

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