A time-honored method for disposing of yard waste has officially been kicked to the curb in the city of Burlington.
During its latest semimonthly meeting on Tuesday, Burlington’s city council enacted a brace of ordinance changes that forbid the city’s residents from using bags made of either paper or plastic to accumulate grass clippings and other organic debris for curbside collection.
The council was initially slated to approve these new rules as part of a so-called “consent agenda” of presumably routine or non-controversial items, which are typically adopted en bloc without any discussion. In this case, however, council member Kathy Hykes suggested removing these changes from the consent agenda so that the council could have them more fully explained for the benefit of the general public.
To this end, the council called on Gary Smith, the city’s public works director, to elucidate the purpose of these proposed prohibitions.
Smith went on to explain that the disposal of yard waste in clear plastic bags has been verboten since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Until then, the city had actually encouraged residents to put yard waste in these transparent receptacles. It nevertheless discontinued the practice in light of initial fears that plastic could be a vector for the spread of COVID-19. Although this theory eventually proved groundless, Smith said that subsequent state-level rules based on ecology have prompted the city to continue rejecting yard waste that’s bundled in clear plastic bags.
“We just want to have an ordinance,” he added, “that reflects what we have been doing since 2020.”
Caught holding the bag
Smith went on to acknowledge that another, more recent development has also sounded the death knell for paper bags as an accepted receptacle for yard waste in Burlington.
Burlington’s public works director recalled that the city’s about-face on this seemingly eco-friendly material stems from an embarrassing encounter with a state-level official at one of the specialized landfills where the public works department hauls its organic debris.
“We had a couple of the paper compost bags that we were unloading,” he recounted, “and the inspector reminded us, and the landfill owner, that the use of…paper compost bags is not allowed in [land clearing and inert debris] facilities.”
Smith proceeded to explain that the glue and ink on these otherwise biodegradable bags could potentially contaminate groundwater if it winds up in one of these state-licensed landfills. In either case, Smith said that the state inspector chose not to fine the city for this breach, although his admonition left quite an impression on the public works staff.
Smith said that residents who don’t want to leave yard waste in loose mounds at the curb are welcome to employ reusable plastic containers for these materials. But those who use bags, whether paper or plastic, will be left in the lurch – a policy that Smith asked the council to formalize through the proposed amendments.
The council went on to approve the recommended revisions by a margin of 4-to-0.
The council’s approval of these ordinance changes wasn’t imperiled by the absence of Burlington’s mayor Jim Butler, who reportedly missed Tuesday’s proceedings due to a bout with COVID-19.
Yet, Butler’s convalesce proved more problematic for a rezoning request that was also scheduled to come before the council that evening.
This particular request, which seeks a “limited” form of general business zoning for two lots along the 3200 block of South Church Street, had come to the council with the endorsements of both Burlington’s planning staff and the city’s planning and zoning commission. Even so, the prospect of presenting this request to just four members of the city council apparently raised some misgivings for Amanda Hodierne, a real estate attorney in the employ of the property owner.
Rather than proceed with the hearing on Tuesday, Hodierne asked the council’s four members present to delay the matter until November 21 so that her client can have “the benefit and the guidance of the full discourse of your council.” The council obliged by a margin of 4-to-0.