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Trashing City Hall Park 

Published September 17, 2009 at 1:49 p.m.

If you think your day is going badly, consider this one thing: At least you didn't spend your morning sorting garbage. Unless you're a garbage collector and you do that for a living, in which case, skip down a few sentences. Jennifer Green and Sandrine Thibault are not garbage collectors. Green is codirector of the Burlington Legacy Project and Thibault is the city's long-range planner. Neither wear orange jumpsuits to work. Except on days when they're sorting garbage.

Today, City Hall, or, more specifically, the Burlington Sustainability Action Team, participated in Vermont's first municipal Trash on the Lawn Day. BSAT was convened back before being green was in vogue by Mayor Bob Kiss to address climate change issues in Burlington. Kiss was conspicuously absent from the trash sorting today. Clearly, he's a smart fellow.

On this day, Green, Thibault and folks from the Chittenden Solid Waste District, dumped a bunch of garbage onto tarps just outside of City Hall and sorted it to see how much city hall employees are wasting. The waste apparently represented three days of city hall trash and refuse from a city council meeting, including Clarence's Davis' fashion doodles and Emma Mulvaney-Stanak's chewed-up coffee cup.  

The BSAT folks were charged with sorting the garbage into three categories: recyclable, non-recyclable and compostable. There was also a separate pile for used condoms and dirty syringes. I kid. But what they found in the garbage was pretty interesting. Items of note:

a kaleidoscope
a plastic bag of mini candy bars
chicken bones
yogurt cups
diet food wrappers
salad fixings
tea bags
unopened packets of first aid cream
half-used notebooks
receipt paper spools
coffee grounds
a bag from Green Up Day
an empty handle of Jack*

*not really

I thought disposable coffee cups were so 2003.

As the women, and it was all women, minus Eric VanVlandren of CSWD's Intervale Compost, sorted the garbage, they noted the interesting finds. "Oooh, someone's flossing. That's a good sign," one of the volunteers noted after finding a disposable tooth flosser thing. They all were disturbed at how much paper was thrown out that was not printed on both sides. They were also surprised at how much stuff people were throwing out that could be composted or recycled.

The data hasn't been completely calculated yet, but they did find only 7.4 pounds of true trash bound for the landfill. Of what was thrown out, 25 pounds was compostable and the rest was all recyclable. Since Burlington City Hall doesn't have a composting program, it would have been impossible for employees to have separated out their compost. BSAT plans on instituting a composting program in the office, especially after the volunteers saw how much of the waste could be composted.

Unfortunately, the demonstration itself wasn't zero waste. Jess Sankey, the waste-reduction coordinator at CSWD, did acknowledge that they had to create waste by using rubber gloves in order to reduce waste in the long term. However, she said, the orange jumpsuits were compostable. But who would want to get rid of those?

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Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober

Lauren Ober was a Seven Days staff writer from 2009-2011.

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