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MassDEP Reopens Public Comment Period for Targeted Issues in Draft 2020-2030 Solid Waste Master Plan

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is reopening the public comment period on its draft Solid Waste Master Plan for 2020­–2030 in light of developments and comments associated with COVID-19, environmental justice, and climate change. MassDEP will accept public comments targeted to these subjects through September 15, 2020, and the first of four public online meetings is scheduled for July 22, 2020.

The Solid Waste Master Plan, required by statute to be published every decade since 1990, is intended to be a framework for engaging in a deliberative planning process that explores short- and long-term programs to manage solid waste generated, recycled, or disposed of in Massachusetts by both residents and businesses. In its fourth installment, the current draft Solid Waste Master Plan for 2020–2030 proposes to focus on seven program areas for the next decade: source reduction and reuse, organics waste reduction, residential waste reduction, commercial waste reduction, construction and demolition debris waste reduction, market development, and solid waste facility oversight and capacity management.

MassDEP received more than 100 pages of public comments during the original comment period that ended in December 2019. Although MassDEP was vague as to the reasons for the additional comment period – referencing input received during the initial public comment period “as well as other developments” – MassDEP posed six questions to be addressed during this additional public comment period:

  1. What specific challenges are faced by populations that are disproportionally impacted by solid waste activities? How could the Commonwealth’s Solid Waste Master Plan address these challenges?
  2. How can environmental justice communities be better reflected in how waste is managed in Massachusetts?
  3. Are there specific policies or programs recommended that would address the solid waste management concerns of environmental justice communities?
  4. What actions can be pursued to reduce carbon emissions from the management of solid waste to help meet the Commonwealth Global Warming Solution Act goals?
  5. What impacts does COVID-19 have on waste management?
  6. Are there specific waste management initiatives that may be problematic or beneficial to implement as we adjust to the impacts of COVID-19?

These topics sharpen the focus of the draft Master Plan and highlight current concerns that have arisen since the initial comment period, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic and rallies across the country regarding institutional racial injustice, and their impact on the issues of waste facility capacity and strategies for waste reduction.

MassDEP had identified that its overarching policy goal in the Master Plan is to put in place the building blocks towards a zero-waste future, requiring significant policy action as well as cultural and societal change. However, the coronavirus pandemic has also instigated dramatic cultural and societal changes with real-world impacts on waste generation, collection, and disposal. For example, recycling was impacted by suspensions of municipal collection efforts and the Commonwealth’s bottle redemption requirements during the pandemic state of emergency. Commercial waste plummeted and residential waste increased as employees worked from home, cooked from home, and entertained themselves at home. As people relied on more and more deliveries from Amazon, Walmart, and other online purveyors, cardboard piled up in greater amounts. How long these and other impacts will last and how they might change the inputs to the Commonwealth’s waste remain to be seen.

But they will need to be considered as MassDEP proposed to prioritize five materials for diversion from solid waste facilities, several of which are directly impacted: food material, cardboard, untreated wood, textiles, and bulky materials. In addition, MassDEP also proposed to attempt to reduce or phase out single-use packaging, increase reuse and donation opportunities, and develop local markets for diverted or recycled food material, mattresses, glass and textiles. All of this now comes at a time when reuse carries a stigma of potential coronavirus contamination.

Public online meetings are scheduled for:

The reopened public comment period on the draft Master Plan ends September 15. B&D has extensive solid waste, climate change, and environmental justice experience. We have been tracking COVID-19 developments and their impacts on the industries we serve. We are here to help if you are considering submitting comments on any of these subjects.

The lawyers in Beveridge & Diamond's Waste and Recycling practice group and Waste Treatment, Recycling, and Disposal Services industry group advise companies and municipalities on waste issues, including compliance counseling, litigation, and regulatory advocacy under federal and state law. Our Massachusetts waste practice helps clients comply with constantly-changing requirements, minimize exposures to environmental liabilities, develop business opportunities, and enhance profitability. For more information, please contact any of the authors.