Zero Waste: What’s New In the Governor’s Climate Change Plan?

As Conduit Street has covered the continuing attention to “zero waste” following the 2013 legislative sessions, we have made a number of forward-looking references to the topic as a potentially major issue for next year’s legislative session. That view was advanced last week when Governor O’Malley personally unveiled the beginnings of his own climate change initiative, which includes among its numerous pillars a “zero waste” goal.

In this article, we look at the initial documents released so far, to evaluate what this new announcement might mean for the 2014 legislative debate, and for new mandates or requirements on county governments.

The Executive Summary of the Governor’s plan includes a brief, but informative narrative on Zero Waste as part of the overall effort to address climate change. From that document:

Residential and commercial waste releases greenhouse gases during processing or when buried in a landfill. The State is currently developing a zero waste strategy to eliminate 85 percent of Maryland’s solid waste (residential and commercial garbage) by 2030. Instead, Maryland’s waste would be reused, recycled, composted, or prevented through source reduction. The State’s strategy sets forth specific policies to achieve these goals including actions aimed at increasing recycling of packaging (including beverage containers) and food waste. Composting of food scraps will be one of the State’s major focuses in increasing waste diversion through 2020.

While Marylanders do compost yard waste, a significant amount of food scraps is going into the trash. Capturing additional organics, especially food scraps, would provide a significant portion of the additional recycling needed to meet zero waste goals.

The strategy seeks to target all sources of waste including commercial, institutional, governmental, multi-family, and residential generators. Finally, the Zero Waste Strategy emphasizes product stewardship and extended producer responsibility which place the environmental and economic costs of products throughout their life-cycle on the producers of those products.

The strategy establishes goals of 60 percent recycling and 65 percent for waste diversion by 2020. These reductions help to reach the target of reducing 4.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent annually.

The specific references in this segment — reaching 85% reduction by the year 2030, and increasing recycling rates to 60% by the year 2020, are both consistent with an approach initially advanced by the Maryland Department of the Environment during 2013 deliberations on related legislation. See previous Conduit Street coverage on “Signals from 2013.”

The longer, more thorough document titled “Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act Plan” spells out more background on the embedded concepts, but doesn’t actually elaborate on the contents or specifics of legislation or regulations that might be needed to effect a zero waste plan.

The relevant segment of that plan begins on page 175 of the full plan document. From that section, we see these details (from page 175):

MDE has developed a “Zero Waste” Action Plan – a comprehensive strategy comprised of short and longer term measures designed to nearly eliminate the need for waste disposal facilities by 2030 by reducing the generation of waste and increasing reuse and recycling.

In 2006, Maryland achieved a State-wide recycling rate of 41.26% and a State-wide waste diversion rate of 44.7%. In 2010, the recycling rate was 41.0% and the waste diversion rate was 44.6%. The Action Plan establishes the following future State-wide recycling and waste diversion rate goals

recycling goals

The “Action Plan” to achieve these goals appears to be multi-faceted, and it’s unclear whether the Administration will elect to support or introduce some or all of the measures mentioned in the Plan document. Among the segments that follow in the report as “Near-term 2013-2014 Initiatives” are the following:

Facilitating Development of Food Scrap Composting

Reducing and Ultimately Eliminating Use of Plastic Carry-out Bags

Increasing Recycling of Beverage Containers.

Implementing Residential Recycling at Multi-Family Dwellings

Strengthening State Agency Recycling and
Waste Diversion Goals and Strategies to Lead by Example

Waste-To-Energy as a Solid Waste Management Tool

In the weeks ahead, MACo and Maryland policymakers will seek more detail and direction on what legislative or regulatory efforts will advance in the near term.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties