Environmental and Land Use Law

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MA’s New Solid Waste Master Plan: A Mixed Bag for Municipalities

Dreams of Grandueur
for MA Garbage
Photo by Masspirg

The Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan: Pathway to Zero Waste., released on May 7, is nothing if not ambitious. It calls for a 30% reduction in solid waste disposal by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050, while “virtually eliminat[ing] products containing toxic chemicals from our disposal facilities.”

Equally impressive is the scope of measures to reach these goals, including increasing business and institutional recycling and composting, building local and regional recycling markets, modifying the moratorium on municipal waste combustion to encourage alternative technologies, and improving solid waste facility compliance with waste bans. 

For all its ambition, the Master Plan’s collection of proposed measures is a mixed bag of potential opportunities, interesting challenges, and incomplete ideas waiting for further detail.

On one hand, the plan estimates that the solid waste reduction goals will result in annual avoided disposal costs of $120-$160 million costs, including waste disposal costs currently borne by Massachusetts municipalities.

The plan also suggests affirmative measures to help municipalities meet the plan’s goals: performance based-grant opportunities for municipalities to implement the plan’s priority programs, financial incentives for upgrades to municipal infrastructure to increase small business access to municipal recycling, funding for “Municipal Assistance Coordinators” to assist in municipal waste reduction programs, promoting “pay as you throw” programs, which have already proved successful in helping municipalities increase recycling rates, and encouraging the development of solar and other renewable energy on closed landfills (another area where municipalities have already done significant work, thanks in part to initiatives undertaken by the DOER pursuant to the Green Communities Act.).

On the other hand, the plan also presents challenges.  First, many of the projects DEP intends to tackle first consist of tighter enforcement and compliance monitoring at existing landfills, including municipal landfills.  Second, although DEP’s intention to modify the existing moratorium on municipal solid waste combustion to encourage alternative technologies is promising, it will also require municipalities to understand these technologies to address new proposals.

Finally, the plan includes several suggestions that can best be described as incomplete.  For instance, the plan encourages publicly-owned treatment works to use certain organic wastes as a supplement to wastewater treatment sludge, but does not explain how either will be promoted or accomplished.  Further, the plan emphasizes a significant shift in waste management from disposal to recycling, but does not acknowledge the challenges municipalities may face in amending existing contracts to implement this change.

Ultimately, like many ambitious ideas, how such issues are resolved will determine whether the Master Plan is a success.

Update 6/6/13: MassDEP and the BBA are hosting an event on Tuesday, June 11 on the “Massachusetts Organics Action Plan and Food Waste Disposal Ban,” part of the Solid Waste Master Plan.

About Mina: I specialize in Environmental Law, Litigation, Energy Law and Municipal Law at Anderson & Kreiger. I will co-chair the BBA’s Environmental Law Section Public Service Committee in September, 2013.

 

 

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Mina Makarious


Posted In: DEP, Renewable Energy

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