Daily Digest: St. Paul's franchise plan, starting next week, could be challenged on the ballot
Plus, New Jersey takes a more aggressive swing at plastic packaging regulation, Casella legal fight will continue in New Hampshire and more in our daily roundup.
In the Daily Digest, the Waste Dive team rounds up insights and moments you may have missed.
ST. PAUL BECOMING NEXT FRANCHISE TARGET
Residents of St. Paul, Minnesota have already begun receiving more than 73,000 new carts, along with their first bills, for the biggest change to the city's waste collection system since the 1970s. The new system is set to take effect on Monday and, just in time, opponents of the system say they have submitted enough signatures to potentially get a ballot referendum on its existence.
According to the Star Tribune and multiple other outlets, 5,887 signatures have been submitted (surpassing the threshold of 5,000) and will now be assessed for validity. While the petition missed the deadline to appear on this year's November ballot, it could potentially come up for a vote in 2019. It's too soon to know how this will proceed — and whether the city will take its own legal action in response — but this process is clearly one to watch.
Though it has received far less attention than existing franchise systems in Los Angeles and cities in Nevada, or the proposed one in New York, this St. Paul program is equally interesting in its own ways. After years of negotiation, 15 licensed service providers agreed to form a consortium called St. Paul Haulers LLC which then directly signed a contract following city approval in 2017.
Since then, as has been the case in Los Angeles, market consolidation has occurred during the lead up. The city now reports eight licensed haulers remain. Among that list is Waste Management, Republic Services and Advanced Disposal Services. Waste Management and Republic are of course service providers in the Los Angeles system as well, and have previously expressed their preference for franchise systems where applicable.
The question now that any new franchise system must address is whether higher upfront costs can be justified by more stable long-term service. Now that residents could potentially be asked to vote on this system's future, it will be imperative to make sure they understand its full implications. The Pioneer Press has a comprehensive rundown of how much this will cost, why it's happening and what residents can expect. The city is also maintaining its own resource page for frequently asked questions.
IN OTHER NEWS
The Garden State took one step closer to what could become the most controversial new plastics law this year. S2776, passed 4-1 out of the Senate's Energy and Environment Committee yesterday, is being portrayed as a response to Gov. Phil Murphy's recent veto of a 5-cent sales tax on plastic and paper bags in hopes of something stricter.
This new bill would ban plastic bags outright in stores with more than 1,000 square feet of retail space and put a 10-cent fee on all paper bags (half going to retailers, half to an environmental fund). It would also ban plastic straws outright (except for people with disabilities) as well as polystyrene food packaging. That ban would even include trays for meat and fish one year after implementation, under discretion of the state's Department of Environmental Protection.
The New Jersey Sierra Club told WBGO it was "the strongest and most comprehensive plastics legislation in the country right now." NJ.com reports the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a plastics-industry backed group, called it the "most onerous piece of legislation" in the country. With a related ban on polystyrene products set to take effect in New York City next year, and ongoing debate about a potential statewide bag policy after the city's was vetoed, plenty of cross-river comparisons can be expected if this bill advances.
Case over alleged Casella landfill leakage allowed to proceed in New Hampshire
A federal district court judge in New Hampshire has allowed a lawsuit against Casella Waste Systems to move forward, and it could go to trial as soon as Oct. 2019. Earlier this year, the Conservation Law Foundation and Toxics Action Center filed a federal suit against Casella and subsidiary North Country Environmental Services that alleged illegal discharge of leachate from a landfill in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. A key question at hand is whether the landfill needs a Clean Water Act (CWA) permit to do so. Casella fired back over the summer with a motion to dismiss which questioned the CWA claim, whether the parties had standing to bring the suit, and whether the company is in fact liable for its subsidiary's regulatory obligations.
As Casella has learned in Massachusetts — and is currently experiencing in Vermont — landfills of all kinds face an increasingly tough regulatory and legal climate in the Northeast. Much of the company's remaining capacity now lies in New York, meaning it has an even greater interest in fighting to maintain or expand remaining sites in New England. Bethlehem voters have a history of going against potential expansion plans for this site, though the company has vowed to press on. This lawsuit could further complicate those community relations efforts.
An unrelated piece of news about the site could also help change the narrative about its local value. NHPR reports Liberty Utilities is interested in spending an estimated $15 million on a gas capture system at the Bethlehem site, which could service an estimated 6,000 homes per year. Approval will be required from the state's Public Utilities Commission.
EPA grant to fund Minnesota recycling campaign from The Recycling Partnership — Press Release
The national nonprofit has received a grant for more than $85,000 to launch a project called “Empowering Minnesota Residents to Recycle More and Better” in partnership with EPA Region 5. The goal is to better inform residents about how to recycle, help recycling coordinators spread the message with training and materials and to increase overall recycling participation. While effects may have taken a little longer to manifest in Minnesota than elsewhere, municipalities and MRF operators are feeling them across the state. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has also been actively engaged in working with stakeholders to develop new local end markets.
UN launches new plastics initiative — Press Release
During this week's General Assembly, UN Environment launched a new Global Plastics Platform that is designed to "encourage new commitments to reduce plastic pollution and explore innovative ways to change the habits of design, production, consumption and disposal of plastics around the world, supporting the transition to a more circular economy." The initiative hopes to encourage a "race to the top" among cities and countries that have set big reduction or recycling targets in recent years by "facilitating the sharing of experiences, the establishment of new policies and inspiration for new commitments." Given the growing list of new global initiatives and partnerships in this space, any additional standardized support will surely be beneficial.
SEEN & HEARD
Do you have events or webinars that should be on our agenda this week? Email [email protected].
Follow Cole Rosengren on Twitter