MACo Proposes Amendments to Zero Waste Task Force Bill

At a February 6 House Economic Matters Committee bill hearing, MACo Legal and Policy Council Les Knapp offered amendments to HB 240, which would create a task force to examine State and local government challenges in moving the State towards a “zero waste” policy.  Under a zero waste policy, the goal is to significantly reduce the amount of solid waste that goes into a landfill.  The remainder of the waste is recycled, reused, or disposed of by other means, such as composting or waste-to-energy.  Zero waste has been successfully implemented in parts of Europe.

Conduit Street reported on efforts during the 2013 Session to enact a zero waste plan in Maryland, which would include phased-in recycling and landfill diversion goals for county governments, with compliance fees and other potential penalties for those counties failing to reach their mandated goals.  The 2013 legislation was subsequently amended to become a task force but failed to pass the General Assembly.

The sponsor of HB 240, Delegate Steve Lafferty, referenced last year’s discussion in his prepared statements to the Committee and stated: “This proposed Task Force came about after much discussion with MACo, MML, waste haulers, industry representatives for recycling and waste to energy, environmental advocates, Maryland Environmental Services, [Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE)] and others.  There is broad agreement that further collaborative work is needed.”  The Delegate also noted that MDE has been developing its own zero waste proposal, per the State’s climate change plan.

As previously reported by Conduit Street, Maryland’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act Plan from 2013 includes zero waste as a major component for reducing greenhouse gases, with an ultimate goal of achieving a waste diversion rate of 85% and a recycling rate of 80% by 2030.  The following chart is from the Plan:

recycling goals

In his testimony on HB 240, Knapp noted that MACo and the counties are supportive of increasing recycling and that “consideration of a zero waste policy in Maryland is a worthwhile endeavor.”  However, he also cautioned that moving to zero waste had significant policy and cost implications for county governments and must be carefully considered.  He stressed the need to identify achievable and realistic targets that account for the specific waste collection and recycling challenges faced by each county and to identify resources to help counties make those goals.

While stating that the Task Force was required to look at many implementation issues important to the counties, Knapp also offered two amendments.  Noting that counties have created successful recycling programs despite recycling originally being an unfunded mandate from the State, he argued that the Task Force should take a more collaborative and incentive-based approach to zero waste, rather than consider new compliance fees and penalties.  Therefore, he argued that language regarding the study of compliance fees and penalties be struck from the bill.  HB 240 also contains a proposed schedule with specified recycling rate and landfill diversion targets, but Knapp suggested that the specific targets and timeframes be removed and that the Task Force have greater flexibility to suggest appropriate targets and timeframes.

Certain waste management and waste to energy interests testified in support of the bill.  Several zero waste advocacy groups opposed the bill, arguing that waste to energy facilities should be excluded from a zero waste policy.  A representative for the waste haulers also testified in opposition.

HB 240 has a Senate cross-file, SB 56, that will be heard by the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 11.

MACo Testimony on HB 240