Sorting Out Recycling and Composting

In our library  program last year Ham Gillett, Program/Outreach Coordinator for the Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District, answered questions about what is both the ever-increasing complexity and importance of proper handling of waste. A short summary follows for those who could not attend.  While Hartford is no longer part of the GUVSWMD, Ham invites questions through his email at The district’s website provides additional information at as does the Town of Hartford’s website at

He included a plea to keep in mind that unused  lawn fertilizers, weed killers, many  cleaning agents (and their containers) should  not go into trash or recycling.  They must go to a hazardous waste collection – each of which costs  a solid waste district approximately  $40,000.  Hence: any time possible seek an environmentally safe alternative.

Unused paint can be taken at any time to the Hartford transfer station and to participating hardware stores. See for drop-off locations. Cans must have the original label and not be rusted or leaking, otherwise they are considered hazardous waste. Similarly, the Hartford transfer station will take electronics. Some (such as tvs, computers, and computer peripherals) will be taken without fee. Most other electronics such as toasters, stereos, hair dryers, etc. will be accepted for a charge. All batteries are recyclable at Hartford transfer station and should not go in the trash or with other recyclables. See for other drop-off locations and instructions for recycling batteries.

In Hartford, our single stream (“Zero Sort”) bins are convenient but should not be misinterpreted.  Careless tossing of materials into that bin that are not recyclable can contaminate all that is in it–and/or clog the machinery that does the sorting. Always keep in mind: “when in doubt, throw it out”.  That is better than risking contamination of other materials. Several other reminders  from Ham: Do not put into recycling anything smaller than 2” x 2”; it can fall through the metal grates on the conveyor belt.  Clean and recycle aluminum foil,, but wad pieces into loose balls before tossing it in your bin.

Plastics?  Only containers marked #1, 2, and 5 can go into general recycling.  Reuse bags as much as possible, and don’t put them with your single stream recyclables. They should go to a bin in front of most large grocery stores.

The talk frequently turned to composting and Vermont’s Act 148 (Vermont’s Universal Recycling Law), requiring the sorting of food scraps (except meat and bones) from other household trash. This may be done by backyard composting, delivery to food scrap collection sites, or curbside collection for some locations. In addition to images of bears and skunks, “compostable ware” has become an issue of concern.  Compostable containers will contaminate a recycling bin because they’re not made out of plastic, and they will only break down in a commercial composting facility where the large compost piles get hot enough  – not in a backyard composting system. Many of them end up in the landfill.  Speaking of compost, if you can’t get the excess food and saturated grease off a pizza box, tear it  up and add it to your compost bin, always bearing in mind that brown (carbon) materials like shredded leaves,paper, pine needles, dead grass, etc.—should completely cover all food scraps in order  to help keep the varmints away..  Ham also suggested electric fence baited with peanut butter or an ammonia soaked cloth as a bear deterrent.

Ham suggested that while these rules and practices may be frustrating, if we can practice them they will do much to make our individual lives more sustainable and to slow the progress of climate change for all of us. At this point, some of the listeners expressed their frustration with some condo associations and landlords who are not making efforts to provide a food sorting option for owners and tenants.

He explained Vermont Act 148 was developed for three basic reasons: 1) Vermont has only one landfill left. It’s located in Coventry, near the Canadian border. When that is filled there are few if any options to build another one in Vermont and construction would cost in the millions of dollars. We need to extend the life of this landfill as long as possible by dumping as little as possible in it.  2)When food scraps go in the  trash and the landfill, they break down very slowly and create tons of methane gas in the process – another large cause of climate change; 3) There is a global awakening to the fact that the Earth’s soil needs to be regenerated. Turning food scraps into compost on small and large scales will help with that process and also slow the process of climate change.  Ham noted that much of Europe is ahead of this country in terms of sustainability and,yet Vermont is a sustainability leader in this country.

Ham offered the consolation that there are great minds at work on all types of recycling and reuse issues  such as what to do with the ‘ag plastic’ used by many farmers for round hay bales and how to recycle  maple sap lines and spouts. As a final note, he suggested purchasing a stainless steel straw and portable bamboo utensil sets for take-out foods and added a slogan for us all: When you throw something away, where is away?