How did we get here?

  • Published in Editorials

Act 250 hearings got underway this week for a much-disputed plan to expand Casella’s landfill in Coventry by 51 acres.

There are legitimate public health and environmental concerns about adding on to the landfill due to its proximity to Lake Memphremagog. The concerns are not just from local residents but also from nearby Canadian neighbors and state environmental groups.

Vermont finds itself in the unenviable position of having only one functioning landfill – which will be full in four to five years without an expansion. The expansion would meet current environmental standards with a double-lined cell, groundwater testing and collection of leachate for processing in municipal wastewater plants and would allow the landfill to operate for another 22 years.

But how did we get here? Why does Vermont have only one landfill, to which 70 percent of the trash in Vermont is shipped from points south, east and west. In addition to the waste from Vermont, the Coventry landfill accepts construction debris, contaminated soil, municipal wastewater sludge and other trash from out of state, which accounts for about a quarter of its annual capacity.

Act 78, passed in 1987, enacted stringent standards for waste management and landfills in Vermont and led to the closure of 58 landfills in Vermont. Moretown’s landfill closed in 2013. Subsequent legislation has addressed solid waste management districts, recycling and most recently a ban on food and plant waste in landfills.

While state officials have planned for a future when 100 percent of recyclable materials are recycled and all compostable materials are composted, there’s been a distinct lack of planning for solid waste management materials that need to go in a landfill. And there’s been a distinct lack of planning for developing solutions that are not based on burying trash in the ground.

In an ideal world, all of our households would produce no waste and we could dramatically slow how quickly our landfills fill up. But how can we not have concurrently planned for next steps when those landfills are full?

Because now we’re in the unenviable position of trying to justify the expansion of the last landfill in the state to gain another 22 years. What happens after that?