What’s in Maryland’s Zero Waste Plan?

As previously reported on Conduit Street, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) released its Zero Waste Maryland plan in mid-December of 2014.  This plan sets ambitious new recycling and waste diversion goals and would transition Maryland to a “zero waste” system, where only a small amount of waste is landfilled.  The rest would be reused, recycled, or converted to energy.  Such a transition would have significant effects on both county governments and their recycling programs.  This blog outlines the contents of the Plan and highlights proposed initiatives that would affect the counties.

Zero Waste Maryland Report

In General

The 71-page Plan is organized into six sections that include an executive summary, background information, an overview of Maryland’s zero waste strategy, an action plan with 61 recommended initiatives, and two appendices.  The Plan is an advisory policy document and its recommendations do not carry the force of law – most of the Plan’s recommendations would require statutory or regulatory action before they could be implemented.

Executive Summary [Pages 1-4]

The Executive Summary recaps the background information and zero waste goals discussed in the Plan and also provides a table listing all 61 of the recommended initiatives, including a timeframe for each initiative’s implementation.

Chapter One: Background [Pages 5-26]

Chapter One provides and overview of Maryland’s waste stream and current recycling efforts.  The Chapter is broken into four sections.  The first section is “Maryland’s Waste Stream” which examines the different kinds of waste generated by Marylanders and explains how a subset of that waste stream, known as Maryland Recycling Act (MRA) waste, is used to calculate county recycling rates.  The second section is entitled “State of Waste Diversion and Management in Maryland” and provides an overview of Maryland’s recycling programs.  From the Plan:

In 2012, the State’s recycling and waste diversion rates were 45.4% and 49.0% respectively.  Inclusion of non-MRA materials brings the recycling and waste diversion rates to 53.7% and 57.3% respectively.

The third section, “Current Statutory Recycling Requirements”, discusses county recycling rates and mandatory recycling goals and provides a breakdown of each by county:

Table 7: Current County Recycling Rates and Future Mandatory Rates

County 2012 Recycling Rate Recycling Rate Required After December 2015
Allegany 30.6% 20%
Anne Arundel 45.9% 35%
Baltimore  City 29.7% 35%
Baltimore County 41.5% 35%
Calvert 45.1% 20%
Carroll 36.9% 35%
Cecil 37.2% 20%
Charles 49.2% 35%
Dorchester 21.2% 20%
Frederick 46.7% 35%
Garrett 46.8% 20%
Harford 54.8% 35%
Howard 46.8% 35%
Mid-Shore* 52.7% 20%
Montgomery 54.8% 35%
Prince George’s 55.4% 35%
Somerset 17.1% 20%
St. Mary’s 34.8% 20%
Washington 55.1% 20%
Wicomico 39.2% 20%
Worcester 29.3% 20%

*Mid-Shore includes Caroline, Kent, Queen Anne’s, and Talbot Counties

The final section of Chapter One is called “Challenges” and highlights some of the issues that must be addressed if the state moves towards zero waste.  Such issues include: (1) reducing reliance on landfills while addressing county landfill-related debt; (2) securing sustainable funding; (3) handling increases in waste generation as population increases; (4) accounting for the complexity and multi-national aspect of product life cycles; and (5) siting new recycling and composting facilities.

Chapter Two: Maryland’s Zero Waste Strategy [Pages 27-32]

Chapter three is broken down into three sections.  The first section, “Definition of Zero Waste” seeks to broadly define zero waste:

Zero waste is an ambitious, long-term goal to nearly eliminate the need for disposal and to maximize the amount of treated wastewater that is beneficially reused. It involves rethinking the ways products are designed in order to prevent or reduce waste before it occurs. Discards that cannot be avoided should be designed for optimal recovery through recycling. Materials should be used and managed in ways that preserve their value, minimize their environmental impacts, and conserve natural resources. Products that cannot be redesigned or recycled should be replaced with alternatives.  …

Zero waste calls for recasting issues of solid waste management and recycling more broadly, taking into account the entire lifecycle of each product. It requires decision-makers to prioritize methods of materials management in order to maximize the value recovered from each material.

The second section is titled “Maryland’s Zero Waste Goals” and details the state’s goals as it moves towards zero waste, culminating in an overall recycling goal of 80% and an overall waste diversion goal of 85% by 2040.  The following table provides further details:

Table 11: Maryland’s Zero Waste Goals 

2015 2020 2025 2030 2040
Overall Waste Diversion Goal 54% 65% 70% 75% 85%
Overall Recycling Goal 50% 60% 65% 70% 80%
Food Scraps Recycling Goal 15% 35% 60% 70% 90%
Yard Trimmings Recycling Goal 73% 76% 80% 83% 90%
Water Reuse 2% 7% 15& 25% 40%

The third and final section of Chapter 2 is called “Benefits of Better Waste Management” and examines potential benefits of a zero waste system, including: (1) expanding business opportunities and creating new jobs; (2) conserving natural resources and saving money; (3) reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving energy; (4) conserving landfill capacity; (5) increasing revenue; and (6) improving health.

Chapter Three: Zero Waste Action Plan [Pages 33-62]

Chapter Three is the main section of the Plan and outlines 61 proposed zero waste initiatives that are organized under eight objectives.  The initiatives are also categorized by suggested implementation timeframes: Currently underway, 2015-2020, 2021-2025 and 2026-2030.

Objective 1 – Increase Source Reduction and Reuse

This objective contains eight initiatives that target how products are designed and packaged and also encourages reuse of products instead of disposal.  These initiatives primarily affect businesses (such as through the creation of an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) system) or citizens as opposed to counties.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 1.6 Increase water reuse

Objective 2 – Increase Recycling Access and Participation

This objective contains 10 initiatives designed to increase recycling participation and effectiveness.  Many of the initiatives in this section would require changes to county recycling programs or reporting efforts.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 2.1 Increase mandatory county recycling rates
  • 2.2 Implement multi-family recycling
  • 2.3 Quantify the level of business recycling
  • 2.4 Implement away-from-home and event recycling
  • 2.5 Phase in disposal bans on recyclables [such as paper, cardboard, glass, metal containers, and plastic bottles]
  • 2.6 Encourage pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) [under PAYT, an individual is charged based on the amount of waste generated, rather than a flat fee or tax]
  • 2.8 Consider further increases in minimum county recycling rates and establish maximum disposal rates [would limit the amount of waste per resident that could be disposed through a county program]
  • 2.9 Boost reuse and recycling of construction and demolition debris
  • 2.10 Adopt universal recycling [must provide recycling and organics pickup along with trash pickup, mandatory citizen and business recycling if they receive trash services]

Objective 3 – Increase Diversion of Organics

This objective contains 10 initiatives designed to address the composting of food and yard waste.  Food waste is estimated to be 14.5% of the total municipal solid waste stream nationwide and composting such waste  would remove a significant amount of waste currently going to landfills and also reduces GHG emissions.  Several Maryland counties have explored food composting but major issues must still be addressed before it can be implemented on a large scale (cost, environmental requirements for composting facilities, smell issues, etc.)

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 3.1 Finalize and implement new composting regulations [MDE estimates they will be ready early 2015]
  • 3.2 Publish composting facility guidance [will be done concurrently with composting regulations]
  • 3.4 Launch an education and outreach campaign targeted to organics [one component of the outreach campaign will be to target local governments]
  • 3.6 Phase in a disposal ban on commercial and institutional organics
  • 3.7 Encourage anaerobic digestion [MDE will consider whether regulations are needed after release of composting regulations]
  • 3.8 Decrease plastic bag usage for organics collection
  • 3.9 Decrease disposal of sewage sludge
  • 3.10 Institute universal organics diversion [must offer organics collection and recycling with trash service, blanket prohibition on the disposal or organics]

Objective 4 – Address Specific Target Materials

This objective contains eight initiatives that target specific troublesome materials in the waste stream, such as electronics, plastic bags, and beverage containers.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 4.1 Conduct a waste sort [would look at specific materials being disposed of in landfills]
  • 4.2 Adopt a disposal ban on electronics
  • 4.4 Adopt a carryout bag reduction and recycling law [targets plastic bags and could be a mandatory take-back program, fee, or ban]
  • 4.5 Adopt a beverage container recycling law [essentially a bottle deposit program]
  • 4.6 Study potential solutions for pharmaceuticals
  • 4.7 Consider other disposal bans [paint, carpet, metal, wood, asphalt and concrete, cardboard, textiles, batteries, etc.]

Objective 5 – Incentivize Technology Innovation and Develop Markets

This objective contains seven initiatives to attract recycling-oriented businesses, encourage technological innovations, and create nearby markets for recycled materials and products.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 5.1 Review regulatory requirements and provide guidance [would seek to ensure regulations for waste diversion facilities are flexible with respect to new technologies and do not impose needless hurdles]
  • 5.3 Initiate and fund demonstration projects [would include local governments]
  • 5.4 Establish a funding system for provision of financial incentives [could be created from a solid waste facility permitting fee or a State-wide tipping fee]
  • 5.7 Incentivize adoption of new programs by local governments

Objective 6 – Recover Energy from Waste

This objective includes five initiatives designed to encourage energy recovery technologies such as anaerobic digestion, gasification, and incineration as a supplement to reuse and recycling efforts.  The Plan notes that incineration will play an important “bridge” function until other energy recovery technologies become more mature and that there will always be some level of non-recyclable materials to deal with.  Maryland counties have expressed interested in both anaerobic digestion and gasification.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 6.2 Encourage anaerobic digestion
  • 6.3 Support gasification and other clean energy technologies [MDE will study ways to reduce adoption barriers]
  • 6.4 Utilize energy recovery for managing solid waste, after maximum removal of recyclables [would make energy recovery preferred disposal method over landfilling]
  • 6.5 Cease permitting of additional municipal landfill capacity

Objective 7 – Collaborate and Lead by Example

This objective includes eight initiatives that primarily targets state procurement and waste disposal practices and encourages collaboration amongst key stakeholders.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 7.4 Seek opportunities for regional collaboration [this collaboration is envisioned between states but could affect county governments, especially those that border other states]

Objective 8 – Conduct Education and Outreach

This objective includes five initiatives designed to promote outreach and change public behavior towards reuse and recycling.

Key Initiatives for Counties

  • 8.1 Seek sustainable funding for outreach [could include the creation or increase of permitting fees]
  • 8.2 Provide funding to local governments for outreach activities

Appendix A – Selected Case Studies [Pages 63-65]

Appendix A includes five case studies for recycling and zero waste practices, including: (1) Montgomery County’s business recycling and reporting; (2) Belgium’s EPR packaging law; (3) Edmonton’s (Canada) waste research division and innovation; (4) Massachusetts’ Organics-to-Energy Program; and (5) San Francisco’s construction and demolition debris recycling.

Appendix B – State Recycling Incentives and Subsidies [Pages 66-71]

Appendix B lists some financial incentives and assistance provided by other states for recycling efforts, including: (1) tonnage grants to local governments; (2) program development grants to local governments; (3) loan programs; (4) general grant programs; (5) feasibility studies and technical assistance; (6) research, demonstration, and pilot program funding; (7) performance-based payments (primarily for energy generation); and (8) tax credits.

Programs are cited from California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and certain municipalities like Austin (Texas) and San Francisco (California).


MACo feels that it is worthwhile to consider a zero waste system for Maryland.  However, it should be done in a thoughtful and collaborative manner, and be accompanied by the resources necessary to successfully implement the new initiatives.  MDE’s Zero Waste Maryland Plan contains a large variety of disparate proposals, with little detail on how implementation costs and challenges would be managed.  In its current form, the Plan is more as a broad guidance document, rather than as a detailed plan for moving to zero waste.

Further work is needed before many of the proposed initiatives could be considered viable policy options –  something the Plan itself acknowledges by having expansive implementation timeframes for certain initiatives.  MACo will resist untenable waste goals or new unfunded mandates being placed on county governments but believes there are many positive steps that can be taken to further the goals of reuse, recycling, and zero waste.

MDE released a draft version of the plan in 2014 and MACo was among the stakeholder groups who submitted comments.  MACo will continue to remain engaged on the issues of recycling and zero waste.

MACo 2014-07-25 Zero Waste Comments

MDE 2014-04 Zero Waste Plan Draft