Federal money could boost state and municipal recycling programs in NH

By: - June 23, 2022 6:30 am
A Casella trash bin next to a sign opposing the landfill

Two new grant programs announced by the Environmental Protection Agency in June could help the state and municipalities recycle and reuse more materials, keeping them out of landfills. (Amanda Gokee | New Hampshire Bulletin)

Brian Patnoe, who runs the transfer station in Lancaster, is tired of seeing materials that could be reused or recycled end up in a landfill because the North Country lacks a recycling facility to process them. 

“In Coos County, we really don’t have a lot of infrastructure for recycling,” said Patnoe. “One of the biggest things I see going into the landfill is construction and demolition debris. All of the facilities to recycle it are in the southern part of the state.” 

And driving to the southern part of the state is too far, too costly, and generates too much greenhouse gas emissions to be worth it, Patnoe said. Education is another problem: People don’t know how to reuse or recycle these materials.

A new $375 million federal grant program is intended to help the state purchase recycling infrastructure and fund outreach and educational programs to improve recycling and reduce waste.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s announcement in June of the new federal assistance comes as state discussions around solid waste are gaining momentum. After neglecting to update the solid waste plan for 13 years, the state is currently drafting a new version. A draft was released in May, and the finalized plan is due Oct. 1.

“Considering how much attention is being paid to solid waste and recycling issues in New Hampshire these days, this funding comes at a really great time for New Hampshire,” said Reagan Bissonnette, executive director of Northeast Resource Recovery Association, a nonprofit that helps municipalities recycle. 

Bissonnette is working with Patnoe on another grant that would create a pilot program to keep construction and demolition debris out of landfills by promoting recycling and reuse. They argued that the program is needed in the North Country because it lacks access to recycling, and the region deserves attention considering other environmental concerns that have largely gone unaddressed.  

It’s one of the worst parts of the state when it comes to how much diesel particulate matter is in the air, ranking in the 91st percentile statewide, according to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Index. And it’s a part of the state where residents are most likely to be exposed to hazardous waste: Coos County ranks in the 92nd percentile for proximity to hazardous waste.  

Both Patnoe and Bissonnette said other municipalities would also benefit from federal funding to address municipal and state needs that contribute to these materials ending up in landfills. 

“The other thing New Hampshire needs is commercial composting facilities,” said Patnoe. After construction and demolition debris, he said, “food waste is probably the next largest material going into landfills.” 

Bissonnette is also a member of the New Hampshire Solid Waste Working Group, charged with advising the state as it develops a solid waste plan. She said priorities outlined in the plan can inform how the state applies for funds.

Money for education and infrastructure

Reducing waste has been a focus of state discussions to divert materials from landfills, where space is limited. Residents who balked at building new landfills in the state have pushed for this approach, and they have the support of environmental groups like Conservation Law Foundation and the Sierra Club. 

This federal money could help municipalities and the state implement those ideas. 

The EPA is currently seeking feedback on three programs it is developing. One would offer $275 million in grants for solid waste infrastructure and recycling. Another would provide $75 million for education and outreach on recycling. And the EPA is also designing a model recycling program for batteries.

Bissonnette said many small rural communities in the region depend on specific machinery to operate their recycling programs. Many small towns have residents separate their recyclables, sorting cardboard from glass and plastic, for example. Those transfer stations need equipment like a baler for compacting recyclables into a dense cube, and they need storage – where aluminum cans or cardboard can accumulate.

“You want to be able to fill up a whole truck full of baled aluminum cans, so that you can get the best price for that material,” Bissonnette said, adding that small rural towns have different needs than cities that use curbside single-stream recycling. 

A new baler can cost a town between $10,000 and $25,000, according to Bissonnette, an expense she asked the EPA to include in eligible expenses covered by the infrastructure grant program during a webinar in June. The EPA is accepting feedback on its infrastructure and education program until July 25. The deadline to provide feedback on battery collection and labeling is July 11. 

The EPA expects grant applications to open in the fall. Unlike many federal grants, these don’t require municipalities to come up with matching funds of their own. This could make it easier for towns to access the funding, which will be available for four years.

During the first year, 40 percent of funding is set aside for disadvantaged communities.  Bissonnette said in its webinar, the EPA asked participants for input defining that category. In the pilot program grant for construction and demolition debris, Coos County qualified as a community with an environmental justice concern because of exposure to environmental hazards like proximity to hazardous waste sites and how much diesel particulates are in the air.  

Bissonnette said grants for education could benefit New Hampshire towns as well, many of which lack a comprehensive document they can give to residents clearly explaining what can be recycled in their community. And the funding could be used to help municipalities understand the total cost of their recycling programs, reconciling all the costs and revenue involved in managing solid waste.

Patnoe said educating people about recycling is critical. “I always say out of the four Rs – reduce, recycling, repair, reuse – recycling should be the lowest part. You try to repair, you try to reuse, you try to repurpose, if you can’t do those, then you try to recycle.”

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Amanda Gokee
Amanda Gokee

Amanda Gokee reported on energy and environment for New Hampshire Bulletin. She also previously reported on these issues at VTDigger. Amanda grew up in Vermont and is a graduate of Harvard University. She received her master’s degree in liberal studies, with a concentration in creative writing, from Dartmouth College. Her work has also appeared in the LA Review of Books and the Valley News.