Lincoln faces trash deadline

LINCOLN — Casella Waste Systems said it will end or change its current arrangement with Lincoln on Oct. 1 and no new arrangement is yet in place.
The town’s selectboard is still searching for affordable and workable ways to get Lincoln’s trash and recycling picked up.
Selectboard Chair Bill Finger said that the volume of recyclables and trash that Lincoln produces is not enough to make it cost-effective for Casella to come up the mountain and collect it from an area with a dispersed population.
“And then the smaller haulers … can only take on so many customers so to speak,” Finger said. “But we think we’re making progress at this point actually. We’re crossing our fingers.”
Last May, Casella representative Dennis Poole informed the Lincoln selectboard that his company was losing too much money on its arrangement with Lincoln and needed to make changes. The arrangement had remained largely unchanged since 2008, said Poole, and Casella was losing around $26,835 annually on its Lincoln account.
“This program was strictly built off of a plan that would have worked 10 years ago,” Poole explained. “We had an older deal that was based on a flat monthly amount that didn’t amount to what we needed to do to cover our costs.”
What’s changed, said Poole, is the recyclables market.
Eight or nine years ago — when contracts such as the one in Lincoln were arranged — Casella could expect to make around $5 to $10 per ton on recycling. This “rebate,” as Poole called it, helped cover the costs of transportation, processing, and the like for handling both trash and recycling.
The largest market for those recyclables has been China, said Poole. And China has in recent years moved toward collecting and processing its own recyclables, rather than those from the United States or elsewhere. Additionally, said Poole, as more recyclables enter the market, increasing supply has pushed the value of recyclables down. Now Casella must pay to process recycling rather than be paid.
“As of last month you’re talking almost around the tune of $30 to $40 per ton disposal on recycling,” said Poole.
Other concerns for Casella included having its Saturday packer truck driver handle cash at the Lincoln transfer site and the greater demands being placed on haulers by Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law, Act 148.
Each year as the law has phased in — sending less waste to landfills and increasing reuse and recycling — it has asked more of haulers, as well as of town trash transfer facilities. As of July 1, 2015, haulers had to accept recycling at no separate charge. As of July 1, 2016, all haulers had to offer leaf and yard waste collection. As of July 1, 2017, all haulers must additionally be able to collect food scraps.
The Lincoln transfer station averages about four to five tons of garbage and 1.5 to two tons of recycling per week. Casella has been sending a packer truck to Lincoln on Saturdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., to collect garbage and recycling. The town sells stickers to residents, who also pay a cost per bag of trash. According to selectboard minutes, the town currently pays Casella around $881 a month for trash and recycling.
Since May, the selectboard has been working with Casella to explore options that could be agreeable to both parties and casting a wider net to see if other Addison County trash and recycling haulers would be interested in the Lincoln account.
“Anything’s possible as long as you pay for it,” said Finger.
Options the selectboard has explored with Casella include:
•  Casella assuming operation of the Lincoln transfer station through a lease agreement.
•  Casella collecting Lincoln’s recycling but not its trash, at a cost geared to market fluctuations.
•  Casella and the town renegotiating a new fixed price contract, but one that includes tipping fees and overhead.
•  Casella leasing trash, recycling and yard waste dumpsters to the town at a cost of $37,000 a year for garbage, $9,503 for recycling and an undetermined amount for yard waste. The town would then have to find a different hauler to cart off the waste and recycling itself.
Over the past several months, the selectboard has approached several other haulers — including Gauthier, Myers Container Service, Premier Disposal Service, R & L Rubbish, and Moose Rubbish and Recycling — but with no results, as yet.
Other options the selectboard has investigated include:
•  Switching to curbside pickup, either municipally funded or paid for by each household separately.
•  Generating more revenue to support trash and recycling by opening up the Lincoln transfer station to people from outside the town.
•  Leasing its own hauler to take Lincoln’s trash to the Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD) transfer station in Middlebury.
At the Aug. 16 selectboard meeting, Poole let the selectboard know that Casella would like a decision by Oct. 1, but might be willing to enter in an interim agreement to allow the selectboard a little more time.
One other model that Finger feels would benefit Lincoln would be for the ACSWMD to manage the town’s drop-off facility, similar to the arrangement in Chittenden County whereby town-managed drop-off centers exist alongside district-managed regional drop-off centers open to all county residents.
While there have been some discussions about this kind of arrangement, ACSWMD Executive Director Teri Kuczynski said these discussions have taken place within the larger question of how to help towns and haulers prepare for food waste in 2017.
“In the meantime,” said Finger, “we’ve got to do something.”
Lincoln’s bottom line might best be expressed by a summary of an Aug. 30 special selectboard meeting devoted to its trash and recycling situation.
“We have to assume that we are facing a dramatic increase in the cost for solid waste disposal and recycling that will be directly or indirectly paid by everyone who generates waste in large or small volumes. The days of the $5 bag (or politely discounted small bag) are over.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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