Sometimes you have a problem, spend years thinking about ways to solve it, and then the answer falls from the sky.
For instance, for four years, the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District has been collecting old sap line for recycling, but had collected a total of just 5 cubic yards — barely over a yard a year.
That’s barely a blip when Lamoille County has about 450,000 taps that produced nearly 200,000 gallons of syrup in 2017, using an estimated 3 million feet of tubing. All that tubing wears out eventually, and the district’s goal is to collect it for recycling, keep it out of Vermont’s last operating landfill, and get it recycled into new plastic products.
This year, the answer fell from the sky. A trio of partners came together to collect 20 times that amount of sap line in just five months.
It happened this way:
In February, the district was contacted by the Stowe Mountain Resort/Vail Resorts Epic Promise Volunteer Program to see if it needed volunteer help on any projects.
Shortly thereafter, Mark Isselhardt, UVM Extension maple specialist, asked the district if it had a maple tubing recycling program. He works with maple producers who needed to replace their lines.
“Aging tubing is harder to maintain and achieve high sap yields,” Isselhardt said. “For this reason, maple producers generally replace their tubing between 10 and 15 years.”
The Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District does offer a year-round maple tubing collection program. However, fittings and taps must be removed and the tubing needs to be cut to 3-foot lengths to be accepted at a cost of $10 per cubic yard. Those are pretty labor-intensive requirements, which is likely why just 5 cubic yards was collected in four years.
Enter the volunteers.
“We reach out to the community to see where we can be of assistance volunteering. This project seemed like a wonderful fit being able to recycle maple sugaring tubing and we said, ‘Heck, yeah, we’re on board,’” said Jeff Wise, communications director at Stowe Mountain Resort.
Isselhardt spread the word to local maple producers and they brought in more than 100 cubic yards of tubing — enough to fill a 50-foot-long tractor trailer.
The solid waste district staff, UVM Extension staff and Epic volunteers spent a day removing all the fittings and taps and cutting the tubing into small lengths, saving time, labor and money for the sugar producers.
The tubing was then sent to two plastic processors, one in Vermont and one in Arkansas. These companies will grind the tubing into tiny particles and sell it to manufacturers who will make it into plastic bottles, ropes, reusable shopping bags, carpet and many other plastic items.
“It was really exciting to have the opportunity to come together and make it easier and more convenient for our sugar producers to responsibly manage this material,” said Elly Ventura, outreach manager for the solid waste district. “It’s important to keep this resource out of Vermont’s one remaining landfill. We absolutely would not have been able to offer this program without the partnership with UVM and Epic Promise.”
The district will continue to accept old tubing and is exploring ways to make the disposal process more lucrative for sugarers.
The district covers Belvidere, Cambridge, Craftsbury, Eden, Elmore, Hyde Park, Johnson, Morristown, Stowe, Waterville, Wolcott and Worcester. Information: 802-888-7317 or lrswmd.org.