“Zero Waste Maryland” Plan Released

The Maryland Department of the Environment has released its forward-looking “Zero Waste” plan, a far-reaching document setting goals and objectives to reduce solid waste disposal and pollution over the years to come. From the plan’s own opening section, “Zero waste is an ambitious, long-term goal to nearly eliminate the need for disposal of solid waste and to maximize the amount of treated wastewater that is beneficially reused.”

MACo was among numerous stakeholders submitting formal comments on a draft version of the plan, after an earlier draft was circulated. See July coverage of MACo’s comments on Conduit Street.

The version of the plan released today includes these lofty goals:

-Waste diversion of 54% by 2015, increasing to 85% by 2040

-Overall recycling goal of 50% by 2015, increasing to 80% by 2040

-Recycling of food scraps and yard trimmings to 90% by 2040

-Water reuse to 40% by 2040

One section of the report speaks to the funding requirements of the many ambitious components of the plan:

In recognition of the challenges of securing sustainable funding, a number of the initiatives proposed in this Plan are designed to be self-sustaining, including initiatives to encourage beverage container and carryout bag diversion and extended producer responsibility policies. However, other important components will require the State to revisit the funding issue. The Department, local governments, members of the General Assembly, and other stakeholders will resume discussions about funding options as recommended in the Study Group’s report, including permitting fees.

Among its many suggestions, the Plan endorses grant support to “incentivize” local governments:

The State should assist counties and municipalities with startup costs for new or expanded waste diversion programs. This could be accomplished through grants for:
New food recovery programs; Pay-as-you-throw programs; Permanent recycling programs for difficult materials such as pharmaceuticals or other types of household hazardous waste; Procurement of updated recycling or collection equipment; or Enforcement of new disposal bans on recyclable materials.

In its official comments on the draft report, MACo had suggested that this be expanded to reference ongoing costs, as well as the more limited “startup” costs — but that segment was unchanged from the draft report. MACo has raised concern that counties could find support for initial costs of these programs, but be left supporting their entire support cost in ongoing years.

The report, among many other possible policy initiatives, also speculates about statewide policies on plastic bags and beverage containers, but does not explicitly endorse a particular new tax/fee or ban fee on either product.

A forum is being held tomorrow to discuss the report, and the stakeholder feedback received during the comment period already held.

Read the full “Zero Waste Maryland” report online.

MACo’s upcoming Winter Conference will feature a session entitled “Waste Not, Want Not: The Promise and Challenge of Zero Waste.” A policy like Zero Waste will have profound policy and budget implications not only for the counties but also municipalities, the private sector, and Maryland residents. Panelists will discuss the benefits and challenges Zero Waste presents to these different sectors.

More information about MACo’s Winter Conference:

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties