Among other priorities, the new Massachusetts 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan emphasizes the importance of reusing goods and materials. Numerous Massachusetts libraries now offer a “Library of Things,” such as this one at the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, where patrons can check out objects. (Photo courtesy MassDEP)

On Oct. 18, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection published the Commonwealth’s policy framework for reducing and managing solid waste that is generated, reused, recycled or disposed of by residents and businesses over the next decade.

The 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan: Working Together Toward Zero Waste sets a waste reduction target of 30% by 2030 and 90% by 2050. Using a 2018 baseline of 5.7 million tons, the plan calls for reducing waste to 4 million tons per year by 2030. (MassDEP’s previous Solid Waste Master Plan, for 2010 through 2020, also targeted a 30% reduction over the decade, but data indicate that the actual reduction was about 16%.)

At the plan’s unveiling, Gov. Charlie Baker said it “will significantly improve the Commonwealth’s waste management system and provide important environmental, climate and economic benefits.” He noted that the plan sets “new, aggressive state-level waste reduction goals that align with our carbon emission reduction programs, invest in innovation, and enhance ongoing engagement with communities across the Commonwealth.”

The plan outlines several strategies to achieve its waste reduction goals, including diverting more food waste (the largest single source of divertable waste) and reducing or phasing out materials that are difficult to recycle, such as single-use plastics and packaging.

The plan sets a secondary goal of reducing the toxicity of the waste stream by improving the availability of household hazardous waste collection programs and implementing producer responsibility approaches for targeted materials.

The plan notes that reducing waste can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Achieving the 2030 waste reduction goal could prevent more than 1.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, based on a model from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

By reducing the disposal of plastics, MassDEP aims to achieve a reduction of 300,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions annually from municipal waste combustors. This goal helps to align the 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan with the Baker-Polito administration’s 2030 Clean Energy and Climate Plan and 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap, as well as with the emissions reduction requirements in climate legislation enacted in March.

A “major new and expanded initiative” identified by MassDEP in the master plan is its commitment to work with the Legislature and its Zero Waste Caucus and other stakeholders to develop an effective approach to reducing single-use packaging; advance extended producer responsibility (EPR) systems for paint, mattresses, electronics and other products and packaging; and continue to administer and enhance existing EPR programs (such as for certain beverage containers and mercury products).

In testimony to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in June, the MMA endorsed EPR legislation for a range of products and for packaging.

In December 2019, the MMA submitted written comments on a draft of the Solid Waste Master Plan. MassDEP reopened the public comment period between July and September 2020 to encourage additional feedback on issues of environmental justice, climate change, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on solid waste management in Massachusetts.

MassDEP plans to conduct a mid-course program and policy assessment by 2025, which will report on the progress in implementing the programs and policies identified in the plan.

MassDEP is also promulgating regulations to expand its current waste disposal bans for commercial organic/food waste, mattresses and textiles. Amendments to 310 CMR 19.000: Solid Waste Management Facility Regulations will lower the commercial food waste ban threshold from one ton to one-half ton of generation per week and add mattresses and textiles to the list of materials banned from disposal or transport for disposal in Massachusetts. These amended regulations are due to go into effect in November 2022.

In response to MassDEP’s initial proposal to implement a disposal ban for mattresses and textiles, the MMA submitted written comments last December expressing support for the intentions but concern about whether there is sufficient recycling infrastructure in place statewide to support municipalities in diverting these materials from landfills.

In testimony to the Environment Committee in June, the MMA expressed support for passing extended producer responsibility legislation for mattresses this legislative session in advance of a full waste ban. The legislation would expand mattress recycling infrastructure and shift the cost and materials management burden for these bulky items from municipalities to manufacturers.

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