MassDEP Issues Draft 2020-2030 Solid Waste Master Plan for Public Comment

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is soliciting comments on its draft Solid Waste Master Plan for 2020­–2030, which are due no later December 6, 2019. This draft Solid Waste Master Plan continues many of the themes from the 2010–2020 plan but reacts to the dramatic projected loss of in-state disposal capacity over the coming decade by focusing on policies to reduce the generation of waste.

The Master Plan, 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. Through the decades, the Master Plan has evolved to address emerging issues and take advantage of growing markets, such as composting and recycling. MassDEP has used this planning process in the past to announce important policy pursuits, including numeric goals for source reduction (reducing waste disposal), a “no net export” goal, a centralized disposal capacity allocation process, and a commitment to building recycling infrastructure in specific areas. As with most planning processes, some of these policies have borne fruit while others have not.

In its fourth installment, the 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 (C&D) waste reduction, market development, and solid waste facility oversight and capacity management.

The draft Master Plan highlights a critical trend: the parallel growth of the state’s population and solid waste generation, juxtaposed with the shrinking of in-state waste disposal capacity. MassDEP forecasts that municipal solid waste and C&D landfill capacity will decline to virtually zero by the end of the next decade. At the same time, projections of waste diversion and the growth of recycling have been overly optimistic. While the 2010–2020 Master Plan set a 30% waste reduction goal statewide by 2020, actual generation decreased by 14% through 2018 and per capita generation decreased by 18%. And recycling facilities are full; the draft Master Plan says that these facilities are “practically operating at 100% of their capacity right now.”

To address these rather stark numbers, MassDEP identifies 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 and significant cultural and societal change. As required by statute, the draft Master Plan offers shorter- and longer-term numeric goals to work towards this policy outcome. For 2030, MassDEP proposes to reduce disposal by 1.7 million tons annually (a 30% reduction) and to reduce the toxicity of the solid waste stream. For 2050, MassDEP proposes to reduce disposal by 5.1 million tons annually (a 90% reduction) and to further reduce the toxicity of the solid waste stream. These numeric goals are offered as the benchmarks for MassDEP’s 2020–2030 strategy.

To reach these goals, MassDEP proposes to prioritize five materials for diversion from solid waste facilities: food material, cardboard, untreated wood, textiles, and bulky materials. MassDEP also proposes 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. MassDEP indicates that the diversion potential for the five targeted priority materials is approximately 1.2 million tons per year, nearly half of which is projected to come from the diversion of organics. The remaining policies are projected to reduce 500,000 tons per year. The 2020–2030 strategy also includes continued waste ban inspections on haulers and generators of waste, continued support for the development of new “Pay-As-You-Throw” programs, and the promulgation of regulations banning the disposal of mattresses and textiles.

MassDEP’s suggested strategy of focusing heavily on diverting waste streams from disposal, with a particular emphasis in the next ten years on organics diversion, is a risky bet. MassDEP has spent several years extensively promoting organics recycling and the markets have not yet responded robustly. Several smaller facilities have been constructed, but the projected 570,000 tons of diversion in this sector is quite aggressive. The plan notes the projected closing of in-state disposal capacity during the next ten years and further identifies that recycling facilities are full today, but MassDEP has not evaluated the impacts of these infrastructure bottlenecks or indicated whether there are policy options that will help alleviate the existing shortfalls. Nor does the plan address the current turmoil in world-wide recycling markets and whether the state or the region can work to provide regional solutions to these difficult issues.

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.