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MassDEP Issues New Solid Waste Master Plan

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) has released a revisedSolid Waste Master Plan, setting forth agency planning goals for solid waste management through 2020.  The new plan indicates MassDEP intends to continue pursuing aggressive recycling goals and also plans to increase enforcement of current bans on disposal of recyclable materials.  The plan also modifies a long-standing moratorium on new combustion facilities by allowing development of waste to fuel facilities. 

MassDEP is required by statute to produce a comprehensive statewide master plan for solid waste disposal, containing both short-term and long-term programs planning goals. M.G.L. c. 16, § 21. The last time the plan was revised was in 2006. The agency is currently mid-way through a ten-year planning cycle, which it describes as a pathway to zero waste. The current plan actually seeks a more modest goal than achieving zero waste, and instead calls for a 30% reduction in waste disposal over 12 years, from 6,550,000 tons of waste in 2008 to 4,550,000 tons of waste in 2020. The plan also suggests a long-term goal of 80% reduction by 2050.

MassDEP has identified three general goals: (i) reducing waste and maximizing recycling, (ii) improving solid waste facility performance, and (iii) developing integrated waste management systems. The specific strategies identified by MassDEP to accomplish these goals include the following:
 

  • Increase Residential, Business, and Institutional Recycling and Composting.

MassDEP plans to provide technical assistance, aggressively enforce generator and hauler waste ban requirements, and focus on efforts on increasing recycling of paper and organic waste streams.

  • Strengthen Incentives Through Producer Responsibility.

MassDEP plans to work for legislative changes to promote producer responsibility requirements and an expanded bottle bill.

  • Stimulate Greater Reuse of Materials and Products.

MassDEP intends to develop a regional materials exchange.

  • Commonwealth Leading by Example.

MassDEP will attempt to get state agencies to improve purchasing efficiencies, maximize recycling and minimize disposal.

  • Eliminate Barriers to Siting Anaerobic Digestion, Recycling, and Composting Facilities

MassDEP hopes to mitigate or eliminate barriers to siting organics and recycling facilities.

· Modify the Moratorium on Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Combustion.
MassDEP wishes to encourage innovative and alternative technologies (e.g., gasification or pyrolysis) for converting MSW to energy or fuel. The moratorium will remain in place for new capacity for traditional MSW combustion but MassDEP intends to allow capacity development of up to 350,000 additional tons per year for gasification or pyrolysis of MSW, including expressing a major commitment to the development of anaerobic digestion facilities.

· Increase Stringency of Facility Waste Ban Requirements.
MassDEP intends to include more stringent requirements in facility waste ban plans to increase the amount of banned material that is diverted from disposal.

Upon issuance of the revised master plan, MassDEP immediately encountered some resistance. First, some environmental organizations attacked the agency for lifting the incineration moratorium, which has been a hotly contested issue for many years. One group called on the MassDEP commissioner to sign a pledge to maintain the moratorium and to increase compliance with current waste bans. The agency has announced plans to hire three additional employees whose sole job will be to inspect disposal facilities for waste ban compliance.

Second, the first anaerobic digester to be considered in Massachusetts since the issuance of the revised master plan hit a major road block. In the Town of Franklin, which is considering the development of a digester, the Planning Board voted not to recommend a zoning change to authorize the construction of a facility on a town-owned parcel, and the Town Council then tabled a proposal to consider the zoning amendment. Thus, in spite of a MassDEP commitment to help promote this developing technology, it is clear that there are significant obstacles yet to be overcome.

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About this Author

Stephen M. Richmond, Environmental Attorney, Beveridge Diamond Law FIrm
Principal

Stephen M. Richmond is an environmental lawyer and a Principal of Beveridge & Diamond, P.C. He is resident in the Firm’s Massachusetts office where for eight years he was the Managing Principal. Mr. Richmond's practice is focused on regulatory compliance counseling, and he concentrates on complex air, waste, and permitting issues. He has significant experience working on facility siting and due diligence projects, negotiation of transactional documents, and enforcement defense on federal and state environmental cases.

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