Public wants stronger waste reduction goals

Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere) discusses the Saugus ash landfill and its proximity to homes and the beach, Boston, Mass., Nov. 7, 2019. Photo by Anastasia E. Lennon/ BU News Service

By Anastasia E. Lennon
Boston University Statehouse Program

BOSTON — Massachusetts residents demanded stronger, more ambitious waste reduction goals at a hearing Thursday for the state’s forthcoming solid waste management plan.

The plan’s draft, released in late September by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, calls for a 30%, or 1.7-million ton, reduction of solid waste disposal by 2030.

“When we say zero waste, we literally mean set a goal of zero for 2030,” Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, said during her oral testimony. “What are we going to do instead of burying or burning? We don’t want a 2020-2030 solid waste master plan; we want a 2020-2030 zero waste master plan.”

John Fischer, the branch chief for commercial waste reduction and waste planning at MassDEP, said this draft is intended to provide a broad vision and address “big picture” concerns. Their key priorities for the coming decade will be reducing toxicity in the solid waste system as well as “difficult to recycle” items such as single-use packaging.

John Fischer of MassDEP opens Thursday’s public hearing on the upcoming solid waste management plan, Boston, Mass., Nov. 7, 2019. Photo by Anastasia E. Lennon/ BU News Service

Those who testified felt that MassDEP needs to set bigger goals for reducing waste in coming years.

“Globally there has been an awakening about what garbage does to our oceans. Citizens are demanding further action,” said Aaron Johnson, a lawyer, also citing China’s refusal to import our waste. “Yet this plan does not reflect this global awareness or ambition. It doesn’t show the ‘bold vision’ I think we can have.”

The proposal does address this element, acknowledging that changes in the global recycling market have resulted in “tight recycling capacity” and increased costs for the commonwealth.

The draft also anticipates the Wheelabrator Saugus ash landfill will reach capacity and close by 2022. For some, though, that’s not soon enough.

“We all know that the commonwealth has a waste problem,” Rep. RoseLee Vincent, D-Revere, testified. “The problem is we need to take action and require reduction, reuse, recycling and composting so that we no longer need incinerators and landfills.”

Vincent brought a large poster with her to show the proximity of the incinerator site in relation to homes and the well-visited Revere Beach.

“This here is America’s first public beach,” said Vincent, pointing to Revere Beach, “where millions of people recreate because they can’t afford to go to Martha’s Vineyard or Cape Cod…I ask you to include the closing of the Wheelabrator incinerator and not to replace it with another high heat burning incinerator. It’s too polluting, wasteful and dangerous.”

Another key focus of the draft will be reducing mattress and textile waste, which MassDEP aims to accomplish with a disposal ban on these bulky materials. According to data from the 2020 -2030 draft, Massachusetts disposed 3,118 tons of mattresses in 2018.

Ryan Trainer, president of the Mattress Recycling Council, thinks the DEP has underestimated the tonnage in disposed mattresses by a factor of four. Additionally, he said he’s is concerned about unintended consequences of a ban without having the necessary infrastructure in place to ensure proper recycling.

“You’re gonna have thousands and thousands of tons of trash in the form of mattresses being exported to other states,” said Trainer. “It’s a bulky product and that would not be efficient from a carbon footprint standpoint.”

Fischer said MassDEP wants to develop a more systematic approach to reduction and reuse with this plan than they have in the past, bringing in stakeholders and interest groups involved.

“There’s been a lot of good things that have happened in source reduction and reuse vein,” Fischer said. “But we feel we haven’t really maximized what we can do in this area.”

Their goal is to publish a final plan by end of 2020, after reviewing all public comments. There are three more hearings scheduled through December, and the public has until Dec. 6 to submit comments.

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