News Analysis

Glass recycling laws flouted at cost to consumers, the environment

by John Brabant

Vermont prides itself on its green reputation. With its leading edge environmental laws governing water quality, air quality, recycling, energy efficiency, and land development, Vermont has garnered national attention as a pillar of environmental protection and a healthy quality of life.

Chief among its claims of environmental stewardship is Vermont’s management of  solid waste, marketing itself as having passed some of the most strict solid waste management laws in the country, laws that move us away from landfilling and toward greater recycling and reuse.  A recent illegal dumping scandal, however, has made headlines and sent shockwaves across the state.

The scandal involves the state’s largest municipal solid waste management entity, the Chittenden Solid Waste District, illegally dumping tens of thousands of tons of glass contaminated with plastics, organic materials and metal.  The CSWD’s “materials recycling facility” or “MRF” collects mixed recyclables for a fee and has served as a processing hub for the majority of recyclable plastic and glass containers for the state of Vermont. 

These materials are delivered to the MRF by solid waste haulers, sometimes traveling over 100 miles round trip, in order to comply with Vermont’s comprehensive recycling laws.  Vermonters were outraged when environmental regulators discovered that CSWD had not recycled, but dumped the glass processed at its MRF while reporting it was recycled.

AT LEFT – CSWD land off Redmond Road in May 2015, before glass dumping began. Center photo from June 2015, when dumping began. Photo at right from 2018 shows “mega-dump” covering recycled glass. Google Earth photos provided by Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Acting on a citizen tip, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources ( ANR) inspectors first caught CSWD in 2009 having dumped glass and ordered the cleanup of various fill sites around Chittenden County.  In what appears to have been an effort to continue its illegal glass dumping away from the public eye, CSWD shifted to dumping its glass at properties it owned. 

At the same time, CSWD lobbied the Vermont Legislature to eliminate the bottle bill in an effort to increase the flow of plastic and glass bottles to its MRF, and increase its revenue stream. 

Lax oversight by VT ANR allowed for CSWD to dump the glass for eight years while filing reports to ANR claiming the glass had been recycled.  ANR used these erroneous recycled glass tonnage figures in its annual reports, claiming high levels of recycling overall and touting the success of its recycling programs. 

The CSWD glass dumping and associated fraudulent reporting matter is now at the Vermont Attorney General’s Office, where the case has languished for over 2 ½ years.  In the meantime, CSWD continues to claim in press accounts that it has done nothing wrong, while the VT Attorney General will provide no meaningful details on its case.  

Millions have been spent in recycling education, many millions more spent to collect, transport, and process this glass, only to have it end up dumped over an embankment at a defunct landfill property.  Vermonters’ faith in our recycling laws and regulatory enforcement programs has been shaken. VT ANR and the VT Attorney General must restore the public trust by seeking full prosecution of CSWD in a court of law, while implementing structural changes at ANR to prevent such a travesty from being repeated.

John Brabant is the Regulatory Affairs Director at Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a member of the Calais Town Selectboard. Prior to working at VCE, John worked at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources as a Solid Waste Program Engineer & Environmental Analyst.

2 replies »

  1. In fairness and reality, the bottle bill is archaic and needs to be obolished. Our roadsides are littered with returnable bottles that usually get destroyed and cannot be returned. Then the legislature argues over who keeps the deposit money from those not returned, but not about how to get more of them returned. It is foolish to take recyclables to different places to dispose of them. And why do hard cider containers not have a deposit.
    Also, many districts argued to drop glass from recycling as it is 1) inert in a landfill, and 2) one of the most costly items to recycle because of its weight, and therefore 3) has little to no market value, as is clearly obvious from this article.

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