Returnable Bottle And Can Controversy Sets Listserv Abuzz

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If you recall the outcry about purple trash bags, then you know that Norwich residents don't like changes to transfer station procedures.  The latest issue: collection of returnable bottles and cans by transfer station employees for their own account. The Town Manager told the employees to stop. Since the day before Thanksgiving, the listserv has been abuzz on the topic, with listserv posters overwhelming siding with the employees.  

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As the matter became public over the Thanksgiving holiday, no official resolution has occurred.  The topic will likely get an airing at the Selectboard meeting on Wednesday. 

My understanding, picked up from the listserv posts and a Valley News article is as follows.  Returnables are not collected as such at the Norwich transfer station. Instead, residents can add them to the zero-sort dumpsters. For years, Norwich resident Barney Hoisington took it upon himself to retrieve the bottles and cans, redeem them, and donate the proceeds to the Haven. Mr. Hoisington has retired. 

After a hiatus, Town employees at the transfer station started collecting the returnables.  Although on company time when collecting the items, the trip to the redemption center was on personal time.  The proceeds were used according to one listserv post for "dogbones and lollypops for pets and kids. Maybe coffee & donuts, or cold treats on a hot day for the workers themselves."  Another post said the money was "also has been used to purchase grabbers and pushers and other small items needed by the crew" to perform their duties. 

The Town employees have not posted on the listserv and that is not surprising. The dollar amounts are unclear.  At $0.05 a bottle, it seems doubtful that anyone is getting rich. 

Someone complained about the employees' practice. The Valley News article quotes Selectboard Chair John Pepper saying that the Town Manager "received a number of complaints about this practice from individuals in town and as a result took action accordingly. As I listened, it sounded like a rational decision based on the feedback the town was receiving... .”

Listserv posters generally favor letting the employees keep the cash, some regardless of how the employees use it.  On the other hand, town workers and town resources are being use to collect the items. Appearances matter in small town government. Perhaps other options should be considered. 

Dan Fraser offered "some brainstorm possible solutions"  on the listserv:  

1. The boy/girl scouts and other interested groups each take 1 week per month to collect/recycle the returnables.
2.Contact Dismas House and see if this is a job their residents would be interested in handling regularly or at least 1 week per month.
3. Contact diversion/NPD and see if there is anyone who has to do community service and would like this task to fill their hours.
4. Post this as a part time job-someone might love it.
5. Pay/renegotiate this piece as part of Rodger, Paul and Jed's job description so it fits the needs of the town/Selectboard - clearly deciding how the returnable money will be allotted.

I am sure there are many other solutions as well.

POSTED: 11.24.2018 

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