New England has a garbage problem

Walker Larsen

So, what do we do? There’s no simple solution, but in Massachusetts the DEP is close to finalizing the revision for the Solid Waste Master Plan, with the intention of increasing the amount of waste diverted from landfills through more recycling and composting, and better all around materials management. The discussion also included the possibility of lifting a 20-year old moratorium on waste-to-energy facilities.

Today the Patrick Administration signaled a strong commitment to responsible resource management by announcing that the incinerator moratorium will stand and resources will begin to be managed more thoughtfully.

This is exciting news, because there are a lot of good options for responsible resource management that don’t involve traditional waste incineration. These include:

  • Developing markets for recycled and reused materials, including building materials and asphalt as well as more traditional materials such as plastics, metals, and paper – a lot of our recyclables are currently bundled and sent to Canada and China rather than being processed and reused locally.
  • Establishing state incentive programs to encourage the separation of organic material from the waste stream – organics decay in landfills and generate methane; food discards in particular are a valuable for compost and anaerobic digestion, and should not be equated with waste.
  • Expanding organic material processing capacity in the form of properly managed composting operations and/or appropriately-sized anaerobic digestion facilities – Anaerobic digestion can be used for energy generation.
  • Developing markets for organic material products, such as compost and other soil amendments – did you know the MWRA uses anaerobic digestion at Deer Island to process Boston area sewage, and subsequently processes the sludge into a fertilizer product?

Resource management solutions will need to protect environmental and human health, as well as be economically viable and socially acceptable.  Thankfully the Commonwealth appears to be on the right track.

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