Bill Would Push Counties To “Zero Waste”

A recently introduced bill, SB 799, would require each county to achieve an ambitious “zero waste” goal over an extended timeline, by gradually increasing the state’s required recycling rate targets, while simultaneously reducing the share of waste that eventually goes to landfills or comparable facilities.

Currently, state law sets a requirement of 15%-20% recycling for each county based on population, and the counties may effect those goals through whatever local programs they offer.  Most counties subsidize their recycling programs with taxpayer funds already, as the recovery of recycled material does not pay for the operating and equipment costs of collection and sorting.

Under SB 799, the state would create and manage a “municipal solid waste portfolio” including multiple provisions:

  • the state required recycling level for each county would rise by 2% per year, until reaching 50%
  • a new maximum amount of “unprocessed mixed municipal solid waste” (essentially landfill material) would be set at 80% for 2015, and would reduce by 5% per year until reaching 0% in 2031 and beyond
  • an “alternative compliance fee” as an enforcement mechanism, applying to counties who fail to meet the annual targets set under the bill, calculated on a per-ton basis and ramping up (along with the other phased-in provisions) to eventually total $25 per ton of both recycled materials and landfill materials

The legislation, while requiring much greater participation in recycling programs, also implicitly creates a substantial new demand for alternative destinations of non-recycled waste — to avoid the “unprocessed” label limited over time.  Approaches that would have to be explored or dramatically increased include composting, anaerobic digestion, and energy production (including waste-to-energy incinerators, a subject of widespread policy discussion in Maryland and elsewhere).

A House version of the bill is also expected.

Read SB 799 — the proposed legislation — and find bill information on the Maryland General Assembly website.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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