UPDATE: March 10, 2020: Eleven Baltimore City Council members sponsored a resolution on Monday calling for the city to "formally acknowledge and move forward in implementing" the "Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste" authored by several non-profit organizations. It has now been referred to six different city agencies and offices.
Proponents of the move highlighted it as key to advancing climate and environmental efforts. "When future generations ask us what we did to reverse global climate change, it is Baltimore's Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste that we will point to," said Council Member Mary Pat Clarke.
- Several members of Baltimore's city council are expected to throw their weight behind a "zero waste" plan on Monday with a new resolution, part of a growing push to end incineration in the city. The move comes one year after Baltimore passed its Clean Air Act and follows the release of a report from the United Workers Association, Zero Waste Associates, the Fair Development Roundtable, and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).
- The “Fair Development Plan for Zero Waste,” calls for the city to achieve a 90% diversion rate by 2040 and not continue its contract with Wheelabrator Baltimore past a 2021 expiration. The plan also emphasizes growing the economy through designating 25% of city recycling and organics processing and collection contracts for local small businesses and non-profits.
- Other parts of the report address illegal dumping, community land trusts, and broader state regulations. The authors call for supporting statewide restrictions on plastic-based products and changing the state's definition of incineration as renewable energy. The plan also backs Maryland adopting a container deposit system, minimum recycled content levels for packaging, product stewardship programs for hard-to-recycle materials, fees on disposal, and more.
Local communities argue incineration is an environmental justice issue, particularly Wheelabrator Baltimore, which has been singled out as one of the city's worst air polluters and is located near low-income communities of color. The new report backed by several city council members argues Baltimore can grow its economy while achieving cleaner air and diverting the vast majority of the city's waste.
ILSR Co-founder Neil Seldman told Waste Dive the report is "unique" in its scope and emphasis and could play a role in the city's upcoming April elections.
Wheelabrator Technologies spokesperson Michelle Nadeau argued moving to "zero waste" will be easier said than done in Baltimore, maintaining "Wheelabrator is arguably doing more than any other member of the private sector to increase recycling and reduce waste" in the city.
Nearly 1,800 local processing and manufacturing jobs could be created by this plan, according to its authors, by striving to meet the 2040 goal. Part of that process would include issuing new RFPs to attract local recyclers and composters. Source-separated collection for recyclables and organics would also be implemented in all city facilities and a Sustainable Purchasing Committee would be established to promote the purchasing of select items.
In addition to targeting Wheelabrator, the report also notes Baltimore's recycling system relies on Waste Management, which runs an area MRF. Opponents of the current system say a switch to localized recycling run by the government and "mission-based" recyclers would reduce cost and benefit the community.
But moving away from what the plan's supporters call "Big Waste" might prove challenging in the near-term. Part of ditching incineration could mean arranging transfer to landfills and composting sites outside the city. Baltimore has its own landfill, Quarantine Road, but it is unclear if or when waste displaced from Wheelabrator might be accepted there. Seldman of ILSR said there would likely be a two to three-year period during which Baltimore might need a potentially out-of-town landfill.
"[The incinerator] could be closed as early as September of this year," he explained, noting the timeframe has crept up on the city's Department of Public Works (DPW), which has faced criticism from some activists for not planning more swiftly.
That closure timeline is based on ongoing litigation. Under the city's Clean Air Act, passed in February 2019, local incinerators must monitor 20 different pollutants under strict standards and report that data online, with additional pollutants joining the list in 2022. Those requirements have targeted Wheelabrator Baltimore and the Curtis Bay Baltimore Regional Medical Waste incinerator, whose operators say the law will force them to shut down. Both companies sued last spring to stop it, along with the Energy Recovery Council, the National Waste & Recycling Association, and TMS Hauling. The city recently agreed to stay implementation of the law as litigation continues.
Wheelabrator maintains it plays an important role in a city where overall recycling levels still hover around 30%. Nadeau expressed skepticism to Waste Dive about the new plan, arguing Wheelabrator recycles and removes "some 15,000 tons of metals" annually that would otherwise be landfilled. She indicated the company expects to be needed for the foreseeable future in Baltimore as the city grapples with its waste.
"Given our commitment to this important issue, we find it curious that anyone pursuing a goal of zero waste would perceive us as an adversary rather than an ally," she said.
Supportive Baltimore council members are expected to hold a press conference Monday afternoon about the plan, with introduction of a resolution set to follow soon after.