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Turning Junk Into Jobs 

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My colleague Lauren Ober just posted a photo montage of the heaps of crap Vermont college kids leave on the greenbelts of Burlington's "college ghetto" every spring before they flee town.

Most of that junk will probably end up in the landfill. Lots of recent college grads, meanwhile, will soon join the ranks of the unemployed, as our sucky "jobless recovery" stumbles along.

It doesn't have to be this way. If only the old couches, lamps and coffee tables littering Burlington's Old North End found their way to recycling centers like ReStore on Pine Street, there's be less crap clogging our landfills and more college grads with gainful employment.

So says a new report released today by Toxics Action Center. "Putting Waste to Work: Jobs in Vermont's Resources Recovery Sectors" concludes that more waste kept out of landfills means more jobs created in the reuse and reprocessing sectors.

How many more jobs? Consider these stats, as presented by Toxic Action Center's Jessica Edgerly during a press conference at ReStore on Tuesday. For every 23,500 tons of waste material, landfills create just one job. (Perhaps that guy you see pushing trash piles around in his over-sized Tonka truck?)

That same amount of waste would create 29 jobs at Champlain Valley Compost, 229 jobs at Good Point Recycling in Middlebury and 1306 jobs at ReStore, the Burlington second-hand shop that was formerly Recycle North.

That's because reuse and recycling businesses like these turn trash into treasure — or at least something that can be used again. With e-waste the fastest growing waste stream in the country, that's especially important when it comes to junked computers, DVD players and the like.

Companies that simply shred old computers might get 15 cents worth of metal from the computer's power supply box, says Pete Funk of Good Point Recycling, who was at Tuesday's presser. By simply taking the computer apart and harvesting its power supply box, Good Point can get maybe $10 for that same item — even after labor costs are included. The company employs 17 workers in Middlebury, five in Arizona and 20 at a plant in Mexico.

ReStore and its sister businesses, such as the salvaged building material store ReBuild, employ 58 workers, most of them full-time, says executive director Tom Longstreth (pictured at top). That includes: seven "deconstructionists," who salvage pieces of homes that would otherwise be demolished; six appliance technicians, who remove CFCs and mercury from refrigerators and such and prepare them for resale or recycling; three computer techs who do electronics and computers; and dozens of store clerks.

"Instead of one guy in an excavator loading [a house] into a dump truck and hauling it off to a landfill, you have skilled carpenters taking it apart piece by piece," Longstreth says of the home salvage business.

In 2001, Vermont set a goal of recycling 50 percent of its waste within five years, Edgerly says. Today, we're well short of that goal — recycling and reusing only 30 percent. Toxics Action Center and Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which joined them at the press conference, are prescribing five fixes:

  • Require "Pay as You Throw" statewide — so those who throw more trash away pay more for garbage.
  • Expand the Bottle Bill to cover non-carbonated beverage containers, such as water bottles.
  • Build  new infrastructure to collect discarded materials and feed the reuse and recycling businesses.
  • Mandate recycling and composting — and fine those who "flout the law."
  • Provide incentives such as tax credits to support new reuse and recylcing projects in Vermont.

Not sure Vermont's college grads want those types of jobs, but it pays the rent — and sure as hell beats moving back in with the 'rents.


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Andy Bromage

Andy Bromage

Bio:
Andy Bromage was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2012, and the news editor from 2012-2013.

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