MMA letter to House Speaker opposing mandates in recycling and solid waste bill

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The Honorable Robert A. DeLeo 
Speaker of the House
State House, Boston

Dear Speaker DeLeo,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing in opposition to S. 2389, An Act Relative to Recycling. The bill, recently passed by the Senate, would clearly place a new mandate on cities and towns, primarily by imposing a set of solid waste “performance standards” on communities and instituting new annual reporting requirements. The measure omits any technical assistance to help communities, and while the bill would establish a solid waste reduction assistance fund, the fund lacks a meaningful revenue stream.

Municipalities have made enormous progress in reducing solid waste and increasing recycling programs throughout the state, but the new requirements in S. 2389 would impose a costly new mandate on cities and towns. Most cities and towns across the Commonwealth have built recycling and reuse facilities in an effort to increase recycling rates. Communities have also implemented automated curbside pickup and instituted unit based pricing for waste collection, commonly known as “pay-as-you-throw,” to incentivize recycling. In fact, 90 percent of municipalities now provide comprehensive recycling programs for their residents.

S. 2389 would direct the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection to establish performance standards for the reduction of municipal solid waste, and lays out specific standards of not more than 600 pounds per capita by July 1, 2018 and not more than 450 pounds per capita by July 1, 2022. The bill would require municipalities to report information on solid waste disposal annually. If a community is not able to meet the performance standards by July 1, 2018, cities and towns must explain why they did not meet the standards and detail a plan to achieve the standards by July 1, 2022. Based on current estimates, 75% of communities exceed the 2022 performance standard, which means this mandate would impact cities and towns in every part of Massachusetts. As noted above, the bill would create a solid waste reduction assistance fund, but we believe the fund would not be able to provide any significant assistance to cities and towns because there is no reliable revenue stream to support it.

Cities and towns are already working hard as stewards of the environment, but this bill would establish one-size-fits-all standards that could be unrealistic for many cities and towns to meet. In order to increase recycling rates and reduce solid waste, municipalities need the flexibility to determine what system is best for their particular community and should receive adequate funding from the state to institute comprehensive programs. Further, the reporting requirements would be difficult to comply with, especially for smaller communities that have limited staff.

While well-intentioned, the critical flaw in S. 2389 is its focus on creating new unfunded mandates on cities and towns, instead of directing attention to the more effective and affordable policy of reducing the volume of packaging and materials that enter the waste stream in the first place. The MMA and local officials have long supported, and will continue to support, producer responsibility legislation to reduce solid waste at its source. Removing materials at the beginning of the use cycle is far more effective than mandating that taxpayers deal with the problem at end of the waste stream. We look forward to working with the House on this more preferable, cost- effective and environmentally beneficial approach.

We respectfully ask you and the members of the House of Representatives to oppose S. 2389 to ensure that the Commonwealth does not impose a new financial burden on cities and towns, and we look forward to working with the Legislature on more effective, affordable and sustainable ways of reducing solid waste in Massachusetts.

Thank you very much. 

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith 
MMA Executive Director & CEO

cc: The Honorable Brian Dempsey, Chairman, House Committee on Ways & Means