The Paper Trail

On the trail of paper consumption in Vermont: Despite the advancement of digital technology, the volume of paper used in offices continues to rise.

by Sean Toussaint

Businesses across Vermont whether it's the home office of a construction company, a toy manufacturer or a software firm have their own paper trails: A supervisor types up a Monday morning memo; a secretary jots down a message; a mail clerk drops a pile of junk mail in an inbox.


Wendy McArdle, communications and marketing coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District, says, "People are very supportive of mandatory recycling for businesses."

"We live in the electronic age a time when the amount of paper is supposed to decrease," says Marge Keough, business outreach coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District. "In actuality, we've seen an increase in the amount of paper we use."

There has also been an increase in the amount of paper shipped to recycling centers instead of landfills. Michael Bessette has worked at the Chittenden Solid Waste District Materials Recovery Facility on Avenue C in Williston on and off since the facility opened in 1992. "Since I started working here, there has been so much more material coming through the door because so many more people are recycling," Bessette says.

According to statistics from the Chittenden Solid Waste District, 87.5 percent of district residents favor mandatory recycling for businesses. "We've found that people are very supportive of mandatory recycling for businesses," says Wendy McArdle, marketing and communications coordinator for the Chittenden Solid Waste District.

Gerry Blair, facility manager at Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, says the company is considering having employees sign a recycling pledge. "That way, it's not just something we talk about doing; it's part of the job."

The State of Vermont does not require paper recycling, but a number of state departments encourage the practice. Marci Young, of the department of environmental conservation, says the best way to do that is to lead by example. Not only do statewide offices practice strict recycling, Young says the paper used by Vermont employees is made from 80 percent post-consumer recycled paper; the other 20 percent is made from chlorine-free virgin fiber, which is less harmful to the environment when it is turned into pulp or winds up in landfills.

In 1987, the Vermont Legislature passed Act 78, which allowed towns to form districts to share the responsibility of planning for solid waste. Since then, 12 solid waste districts have formed across Vermont, providing regional solutions to solid waste disposal problems. In 1993, the Chittenden Solid Waste District, the state's largest, was the first to establish an ordinance making recycling mandatory for all residents and businesses. To accommodate the large amounts of mixed recycling that workers would have to sort through, the Chittenden Solid Waste District built a materials recovery facility in Williston. The district contracts with Casella Waste Management of Rutland to operate the facility.

The recycling process at the facility begins at the front gate, where recycling haulers weigh their loads and pay per ton of material. Trucks are driven through the bay door to the bottom of one of two conveyer belts: fiber loads are emptied on the right; glass, metal and plastic bottles on the left.

Mike Bessette, of All Cycle Waste Management Inc., at the Materials Recovery Facility clears non-fiber from a pile headed for the baler.

Small front-loaders patrol the warehouse floor, gathering miscellaneous items and pushing them onto the conveyer belts, which rise 20 feet into the air and pass through two work stations. On the fiber line, at least six employees sort through the contents and separate cardboard, box board, newspaper, glossy paper and white ledger paper into separate holding bins. When the bins are full, workers feed the contents into the baler. The different bales are set aside and await trucks from paper mills to collect them. In May, the going rate for a ton of white office paper was about $110.

The solid waste district has an outreach program for businesses seeking help, but it also contacts those that may not want help. Based on load checks at county drop-off centers and complaints from haulers, the Chittenden Solid Waste District contacted 58 businesses in 1998, 54 percent of which complied with recycling laws. In 2000, the district contacted 73 businesses and found only 25 percent in compliance.

First-time fines for violating the Chittenden Solid Waste District recycling ordinance can be as much as $500, but McArdle says the solid waste district's intent is not to fine businesses but to educate them on recycling practices and help them to comply. "Enforcement of recycling laws is difficult," McArdle says. "Fines are there to support the law, but that doesn't happen very often. We try to enforce the mandate with the carrot instead of the stick."

Office Waste Reduction Tips

• Use double-sided copies • Try using paper with one blank side for making draft copies

• Use e-mail to send memos

• Use voice mail for reminders

• Post announcements on bulletin boards

• Route one copy of document around office

• Soft-proof documents on computer screen before printing

• Adjust margins and/or font size to avoid extra pages with a few lines

• Make reusing file folders easy by purchasing labels

• Purchase address labels and save large mailing envelopes for reuse

• Avoid purchasing special note pads by using scrap paper

• Avoid colored paper white paper requires fewer chemicals to recycle

• Purchase recycled office products whenever possible When the solid waste district approached Doug Robie, risk manager of DEW Construction Co., about a recycling violation, it was in the form of a letter offering assistance rather than levying a fine. Robie says the letter alerted the company to its vagrancy and said it might be fined next time.

Robie called the solid waste district and asked a representative to help improve the recycling atmosphere at the company's home office in Williston and on job sites throughout the Northeast. The result was an initiative called Gang Green, a group of employees volunteering to enforce the company's recycling program.

"We brought in Marge (Keough) and went through the office from top to bottom," Robie says. "In no time at all we had a recycling program in effect, and everyone was complying. It didn't take any effort at all. What impressed me the most with the Chittenden Solid Waste District is that here's an organization that could have fined us, but they were more interested in helping us come into compliance. We won their annual waste reduction award a year later."

Mike Ewell, executive director of the Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District in St. Albans, says his district tries to make the same non-threatening approach. Instead of focusing on the consequences of noncompliance, Ewell says he entices business owners to recycle by letting them know it can cut down on disposal fees.

"We tell business owners that they should have their waste management based on volume," Ewell says. "That way, recycling will pay off for them by taking it out of their Dumpster and not getting charged for as much waste as they were."

IDX Corp., the medical software company headquartered in South Burlington, tries to limit the amount of paper in its Dumpsters by periodically sending out electronic reminders about recycling and placing paper bins as conveniently as possible around the office so workers find it easy to recycle.

At the Materials Recovery Facility, small front-loaders push paper into a pile and up a conveyer belt, where it's sorted and eventually bailed. The pile on the right side of the picture is heading up the conveyer belt to be separated; the bails on the left are the finished product.

To reduce overall paper consumption, IDX uses Lotus Notes to share information and encourages employees to communicate electronically. Still, the company generates about 1,000 gallons of paper each month, company spokesman Robert Stirewalt says.

To handle that paper flow, there is a paper bin at each of its employee's work stations. Workers empty their paper into 200-gallon bins spotted throughout the building, and once a week an employee collects the paper and brings it to the mail room for baling. A private hauler collects the paper and delivers it to the materials recovery facility.

"I think a lot of our employees are in tune with recycling at home, so they are aware of it at the office, " Stirewalt says, "but I think it serves as a good reminder to people to have someone come through and pick up the paper."

To find out more about recycling laws in your area, call your local solid waste district: Addison County Solid Waste District 802-388-2333

Bennington County Regional Commission 802-375-2576

Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District 802-479-4363

Chittenden Solid Waste District 802-872-8111

Greater Upper Valley Solid Waste Management District 802-296-3688

Lemoille Regional Solid Waste Management District 802-888-7317

Northeast Kingdom Waste Management District 802-626-3532

Northwest Vermont Solid Waste Management District 802-524-5986

Rutland County Solid Waste District 802-775-7209

Rutland JMSC/SWAC towns 802-235-9353

Waterbury/Mad River Solid Waste Alliance towns 802-244-7373

Windham Solid Waste Management District 802-257-0272
The problem with the recycling process in Vermont solid waste districts and those across the country is that the recycled paper market is subject to the laws of supply and demand. "I tell people that there's no difference between selling recycled paper and selling pork bellies on the Chicago Sock Exchange," Young says.

When recycled paper started to be mass marketed a decade ago, the quality was poor and the price was unreasonable, says Peter Crawford, director of the Small Business Development Center's environmental assistance program. Within the past few years, Crawford says the price has come down and the quality is good enough for in-house printing and copying. "If you go to Staples, sure a packet of recycled paper is going to be higher than virgin paper. But if you buy paper by the bulk, then the price isn't going to be that different."

For many years, he says, efforts were focused on getting recyclable waste out of the landfill and into recycling centers. Now that companies know that this needs to be done, efforts are focusing on reduction and reuse, the final two arrows in the three-pronged attack of waste reduction.

"My take is if you recycle, then you ought to be buying recycled," Crawford says. "Otherwise, what's the point? Basically, what I'm working on with businesses is a process called environmentally preferable purchasing, where businesses are conscious of what they're buying and what they're getting rid of. It's closing the loop." To that end, Crawford is working with the Vermont Ski Areas Association to have ski areas use at least some percentage of recycled paper.

Gardener's Supply Co. in Burlington, which sends out millions of catalogs a year, is one company Crawford doesn't need to work on in that area. The company's catalogs are printed on paper that is made up of at least 15 percent recycled paper, use soy-based ink and is chlorine-free, facility manager Gerry Blair says.

Workers on the fiber line at the Chittenden Solid Waste District's Materials Recovery Facility in Williston sort through cardboard, box board, newspaper, glossy paper and white ledger paper before sending it to the baler. The facility sees about 18,000 tons of fiber each year.

The company prints its recycling practices on the inside cover of its catalogs to let readers know what they're getting and to encourage them to think about the materials they consume on a daily basis. The company's effort to print on recycled materials is more costly than printing on virgin paper, but not much, and Blair says the practice is an ingrained part of the company's policy. "If the cost is truly prohibitive, then obviously we might have to make some sacrifices, " Blair says, "but if it's at all in reason, we try to go ahead and use as much recycled material as we can."

Ron Cosey, of the commodity marketing team for Casella, wishes more companies purchased like Gardener's Supply. One of Cosey's jobs is to sell bales of recyclable paper to paper mills. The recycled fiber market is so saturated right now that Cosey says it can be a tough sell. One of the few times he sees a jump in the market is when a foreign paper mill needs a large quantity of recycled paper, thus depleting the supply for local mills and raising the price all around.

He's not placing fault on the demand-side, because he says more businesses are buying recycled paper. "It's just that we have such a glut of material, that the market is very depressed right now," Cosey says. "We hope and look for those little spikes in the market, but they don't come around very often. There's nothing we can do about it, though. We're always going to have recycled paper and we're always going to have to try and get rid of it."

A saturated market may be a challenge for sellers in the recycled market, but it's good news for recycling activists, like Keough. "When I see how much is here," Keough says of the materials recovery facility, "it's such a good feeling. It makes me feel like we're actually getting through to people, and they're doing what they're supposed to do."

Originally published in July 2001 Business People-Vermont