Zero Waste Debated at MACo January 2015 Winter Conference

Attendees 20150108_143225at the MACo January 2015 Winter Conference received several perspectives on “zero waste” (the policy of reusing, recycling, or disposing of waste by means other than landfilling).   At the “Waste Not, Want  Not: The Promise and Challenge of Zero Waste” panel, a full room of attendees heard from representatives of the state, county government, and the waste haulers/recyclers.

Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Deputy Secretary David Costello outlined Maryland’s zero waste plan that was recently unveiled in December 2014.  He discussed the plan’s aspirational goals of an 80% recycling goal and 85% total waste diversion goal by 204o.  Going through the plan’s approximately 60 proposed initiatives, Costello noted that certain initiatives would apply to all counties while others might be more appropriate for specific counties.  He also noted that success in certain initiatives might obviate the need to implement certain other initiatives.  One of the biggest initiatives will be the large-scale composting of food waste.  He also discussed water reuse, energy recovery (such as gasification or incineration), regional approaches, disposal bans, and implementing a pay-as-you-throw system (charging people based on the amount of trash they generate as opposed to a flat service fee or tax).

Cecil County Solid Waste Division Chief Pete Bieniek stated that zero waste is a worthwhile goal to work towards in Maryland but also cautioned about some of the practical challenges facing such a policy change.  He argued that MDE’s plan has an overly aggressive implementation timeline and did not fully account for needed infrastructure and materials markets, especially for composting.  He noted that it could take up to 5 years simply to receive permits for a composting facility.  He stressed the need for funding sources, resources from the State, and a major public education effort.  Bieniek also called for stakeholder collaboration.  He concluded by noting that zero waste “is the way to go” but that the practical challenges needed to be addressed first.

National Waste & Recycling Association Director of Policy/Advocacy Chaz Miller concluded the panel by stressing the need to define zero waste for Maryland, as there is no accepted definition.  He focused on the need for strategies as the beginning of the product “pipeline” such as lighter products and packaging reduction.  Miller also argued that a zero waste policy needed to be “smart capitalism” and turn business costs into business assets.

Delegate Stephen Lafferty moderated the panel.

MACo Analysis & Summary of Zero Waste Plan