- A new draft solid waste master plan from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) calls for a 30% reduction in annual disposal by 2030 and a 90% reduction by 2050. An estimated 5.7 million tons were disposed in 2018.
- MassDEP plans to ramp up enforcement of existing waste bans and promulgate new ones to support these goals. This may include expanding the current commercial organics disposal ban to generators of a half-ton or more per week by 2022. New disposal bans on textiles and mattresses are also under consideration.
- Other draft plan goals include supporting producer responsibility policies for challenging materials (i.e. carpet, paint and electronics), working with the state legislature on single-use packaging reduction policies and establishing minimum performance standards for construction and demolition recycling facilities.
This new draft, part of MassDEP's regular 10-year planning process for solid waste policy, comes as disposal capacity continues to shrink in the state.
According to recent analysis conducted by MSW Consultants, Massachusetts will effectively run out of landfill space by 2030 and will likely have to export more waste. Its incinerators are also running at or near capacity, and space at their necessary ash landfills is also projected to decline.
MassDEP's previous solid waste plan called for a 30% reduction in disposal by 2020, but the state only saw a 14% reduction between 2008 and 2018. While officials are heartened that volumes didn't rise as state GDP increased by 46% over the same period, they recognize more needs to be done.
Because food waste remains the largest category of material getting disposed, and processing capacity continues to grow, MassDEP saw lowering the original 2014 ban threshold as a logical move. This has long been a priority for organics recyclers in the region. The next tier of covered organics generators is expected to primarily include restaurants. When asked about going farther to include more businesses (as Vermont has done) the agency said its goal is to keep compliance and enforcement cost-effective.
"Our capacity is actually fairly hungry for food material and we think that will be able to support the ban at a half-ton threshold," John Fischer, branch chief for commercial waste reduction at the agency, told Waste Dive.
Enforcing that new disposal ban (along with potential bans on textiles and mattresses) will come down to resources. Environmental groups have criticized MassDEP for not doing enough to enforce existing waste bans on cardboard or other recyclables. Fischer couldn't confirm whether these new policies would be paired with a higher enforcement budget.
Questions about how MassDEP might engage with the state legislature to push for stalled producer responsibility policies also remain unresolved.
Massachusetts lawmakers have struggled to reach agreement on bills around paint and plastic bags in recent years, let alone the tougher question of packaging. Fischer did not rule out following the leads of Maine or Vermont, which are currently working on some of the nation's most ambitious packaging policies.
Beyond regulatory tactics, a key theme for MassDEP continues to be supporting municipalities in their own source reduction and material recovery efforts. Compared to many other state environmental agencies, MassDEP's level of financial and technical support is seen as among the more active in the country.
Still, the agency caught flak from industry service providers for not doing more to stave off rising costs spurred by the state's disposal crunch.
Fischer said MassDEP isn't restricting new landfill capacity and confirmed it would also consider replacing current incinerator capacity that could meet or exceed current facility standards. The agency also remains open to 350,000 tons per year of new capacity for "innovative" technologies such as gasification or pyrolysis. According to Fischer, no permit applications have come in for any of those categories and MassDEP still says more disposal capacity is not the primary solution.
"The best way we can address our capacity challenges is through advancing capacity that can manage material in other ways," he said. “The more material that can flow through those facilities and that infrastructure, the better off we’ll be.”
MassDEP has scheduled five hearings throughout the state and is accepting public comment through Dec. 6.