Zero Waste in Maryland – Signals from 2013

During the General Assembly session of 2013, a substantial debate arose on the subject of “zero waste” – a global term incorporating multiple policy goals for improved disposition of municipal solid waste. While no bill from 2013 was signed into law, MACo believes this complex issue merits extended attention, and will be researching and describing the issue in the months ahead, anticipating a continued or broadened policy debate in the next session.

This write-up seeks to summarize and draw from 2013 legislation targeting “zero waste” mandates and penalties to be placed on county governments. Since counties are currently the chief actors in managing solid waste streams, this policy is of central importance to MACo.

Focus on SB 799

The main attention during the 2013 session focused on SB 799, legislation sponsored by Senator Middleton and jointly assigned to the Senate Committees on Finance and Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs.  That bill passed the Senate in a heavily amended form (turning the requirements into a study of related issues), but did not pass the House and ultimately failed.

MACo raised detailed concerns with SB 799 in its written testimony. In part:

Unlike most other states, Maryland requires the counties to administer recycling programs and reach certain recycling goals. Despite originally being an unfunded mandate from the State, counties have supported recycling and now Maryland ranks above average among recycling states. Over time, county recycling rates have continued to increase. These positive results highlight that MACo and the counties are committed to recycling.

The zero waste concept pushes recycling goals further, with the aim of eliminating (or more practically, significantly reducing) the amount of solid waste that goes into a landfill. Waste is recycled, reused, or disposed of by other means. Zero waste has been implemented in parts of Europe and MACo believes that consideration of a zero waste policy in Maryland is a worthwhile endeavor. However, adopting a zero waste policy would have significant policy and cost implications and must be carefully considered.

Components of a Zero Waste Plan

The apparent Maryland framework for a zero waste policy includes three components — two stated, and one implied. In each version of the bill debates in 2013, the zero waste approach speaks to:

– an increased requirement for the share of waste to be recycled
– a limit on the amount of waste eventually placed into landfills

From these standards, an implied third element appears. For a county reaching the recycling target, but limited in how much may be landfilled — there becomes a requirement to find an alternate disposition of the remaining waste. While composting and other alternatives have been discussed, it appears that waste-to-energy facilities would be the most likely disposition for a substantially increased segment of the state’s waste.

Evolving Targets

Current law sets a two-tier goal for county recycling rates — targeting a 35% rate for larger jurisdictions (population of 150,000 or more), and 20% for smaller. SB 799, in its multiple forms, would have both heightened these goals and backed them up with a compliance penalty.

As introduced, SB 799 would have changed the solid waste goals as follows:

RECYCLING – 50% by 2031
LANDFILLS – 0% by 2031
PENALTIES – ramp up to $25/ton (CPI adjusted)

During the Senate Finance Committee’s workgroup on the bill and related issues, representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment offered a different framework, with these essentials:

RECYCLING – 80% by 2028/2030 (slower schedule for smaller counties)
LANDFILLS – 5% by 2030 (slower schedule for smaller counties)
PENALTIES – ramp up to $25/ton (CPI adjusted)

Following extended debate on these issues, the Senate Finance Committee voted out a bill creating a group to study the issues, but including a framework with these essentials in its charge:

RECYCLING – 60% by 2028/2035 (slower schedule for smaller counties)
LANDFILLS – 5% by 2028/2035 (slower schedule for smaller counties)
PENALTIES – study group charged with recommending

While that bill ultimately died, these elements and benchmarks set a starting point for a coming debate over Maryland’s solid waste policy, and the requirements and penalties counties may face to achieve these state goals.

For more of MACo’s 2013 session coverage of zero waste issues on Conduit Street, see the articles below:

Bill Introduced
Debate Continues
MACo Concerns and Testimony
Bill Advances in Senate

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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