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Why trash and recycling bins need each other

“Make it convenient, make it obvious, and make it hard to do the wrong thing!” That’s the mantra Michele Morris goes by. She’s the Business Outreach Coordinator for CSWD, and she offers tools, tips, even grant money to help businesses meet trash and recycling bin pairing requirements that took effect July 1, 2016.

A silver trash can next to a blue recycling binRecycling has been mandatory for businesses and residents of Chittenden County since 1993. Yet we estimate that, as of 2015, businesses still sent more than 21 million pounds of recyclables to the landfill.

Research shows that an effective way to capture more recyclables is to pair trash containers with recycling containers. That practice is now law in Chittenden County, wherever a trash can is available for public use.

Jude Chicoine, who owns Seaway Car Wash on Shelburne Road in South Burlington, agrees. “I think having the law is a good thing,” he says. “This plastic shouldn’t be going in the landfill. We should be doing something with it,” says Chicoine. “You can’t miss my bold, new recycling containers when you pull up to clean out your car,” adding that he appreciates no longer needing to fish recyclables out of the trash.

“We love that kind of commitment,” says Morris of CSWD. “But we don’t require businesses to sort through their trash. They just need to offer a convenient, well-labeled option for recyclables anywhere they provide a trash can for public use.”

Recycling containers are NOT required for restrooms (in fact, we encourage businesses not to place them in restrooms).

The bottom line, Morris notes, is that all businesses are responsible for making sure their trash doesn’t contain recycling – and vice versa. Trash is a contaminant in the recycling system, and costs a lot of money and time to get it out.

“The best way to avoid a fine or an issue with your trash and recycling hauling company,” says Morris, “is to have clearly labeled  containers that help customers make a decision easily about where to place an item.”

“Make it convenient, make it obvious, and make it hard to do the wrong thing!”

There are many ways to abide by the law, and it doesn’t always involve spending a lot of money on expensive, new containers. Many businesses can simply paint, relabel, and repurpose existing trash cans as recycling containers. CSWD can provide stickers for just such a purpose.

CSWD also provides grant funding to help defray the cost of new bins. “We knew that we were going to have to spend money to meet the law,” says Kim Gobeille, owner of Burlington Bay Market & Café on Battery Street in Burlington. “The grant made it a little bit easier. It was nice to have the assistance, for sure.”

Both Chicoine and Gobeille received a reimbursement of 40% of the cost of the trash and recycling waste stations they each chose. They worked with Morris to be sure the bins would meet grant requirements and fit their specific space and customer needs. Schools, not-for-profit and government applicants can receive reimbursement of up to 50% of their investment.

All grants have a cap of $3,000 for this fiscal year, and just over $8,700 remains from the initial pool of $15,000 provided in this round of funding. Funding requests will be considered until June 1, 2017 or all funds are disbursed, whichever comes first.

“I think people are recycling more,” says Gobeille, “because it’s more easily understood.”

And that, after all, is the whole point.

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Clare has lived in Tennessee, New Mexico, California, Virginia, Connecticut, Texas, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and, for the past 10 years, Vermont. She can be found peering into recycling bins everywhere to see what works and is frequently quizzed about recycling and composting in random places when people find out where she works. She spends as much time as possible playing ukulele and roaming through Vermont’s spectacular mountains and forests.