Comments to the MDE about its flawed “Zero Waste Plan”

The Maryland Department of the Environment and the O’Malley administration is writing a long term waste management plan titled “Zero Waste Maryland“. However, as with the controversial Maryland Green House Reduction Plan the draft of the plan includes trash incineration as a “bridge” to Zero Waste.

Yet, widely accepted Zero Waste principals require that “no solid wastes are processed in facilities that operate above ambient biological temperatures (more than 200 degrees F.) to recover energy or materials.”

Maryland’s draft Zero Waste Plan again shows the MDE does not believe it should follow the only peer-reviewed, internationally accepted definition and principles describing what Zero Waste really means, and the measures to evaluate its success.

Citizen comments are necessary to correct the mistakes in this plan, and are due this Friday May, 23, 2014.

Maryland deserves better than Fake Zero Waste. So please, speak up and make your comments to, and

Here is my critique of Maryland’s Draft Zero Waste Plan:

To Whom It May Concern:

As correctly stated on pages 1 and 23 of Maryland’s Draft Zero Waste Plan, “Zero waste is described by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) as a set of principles by which “all discarded materials are designed to become resources for others to use.” Achieving the zero waste goal will require “designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.” (Emphasis added.)

Additionally, the Zero Waste International Alliance’s hierarchy states,”The Zero Waste Hierarchy says don’t burn mixed solid waste, tires, wood from mixed construction and demolition debris, or biosolids, as high temperature systems volatilize heavy metals and produce dioxins and furans. The Zero Waste Hierarchy says avoid all high temperature systems, such as Mass Burn, Fluidized Bed, Gasification, Plasma Arc, and Pyrolysis. The Zero Waste Hierarchy also says don’t support bioreactor landfills, don’t give recycling credit for Alternative Daily Cover (ADC) or ‘beneficial use’ of processing residues to build landfills, and don’t allow recycling toxic or radioactive wastes into consumer products or building materials.” (Emphasis added.)


“Objective 6- Recover Energy from Waste” contradicts the definition of Zero Waste by including trash incineration and other forms of burning technologies:

6.3 Support gasification and other clean energy technologies. The Department should
continue to research and track developments in other clean energy technologies.

Gasification, for example, can process MSW with fewer air emissions than traditional WTE. Interest in gasification is growing in the U.S., including in several Maryland counties. The Department will examine ways to reduce barriers and facilitate adoption of gasification. See Objective 5 for other initiatives to support burgeoning technologies.

6.4 Utilize waste-to-energy (WTE) for managing solid waste, after maximum removal of recyclables. Due to its greenhouse gas emissions and energy production benefits relative to landfilling, WTE should be preferred to landfilling as a disposal method.


The information in this paragraph needs to be corrected since correlation does not imply causation:

“WTE is viable for energy production even when recyclables are removed and there is evidence that WTE can be used successfully in conjunction with aggressive recycling programs. Harford and Montgomery Counties, both of which have WTE facilities, are consistently among the top counties for recycling. Across the U.S., a study found that states with WTE have recycling rates slightly higher than the national average and that within each state, recycling rates in WTE communities are generally similar to the statewide average recycling rates.78 The author of that study concluded, based on that information, that state recycling policies have a more profound impact on recycling rates than whether a state or community disposes of material through WTE or land-filling. WTE facilities may actually encourage additional recycling for some materials as they can recover metals not typically captured by recycling programs.”

On page 17 of Maryland’s draft Zero Waste Plan you’ll find Prince George’s County and Washington County, neither which use an incinerator, have higher recycling rates than Harford and Montgomery Counties. Additionally, I understand Harford County includes its incinerator ash as part of its recycling calculations, and Zero Waste does not include incinerator ash to be used as Alternative Daily Cover. It is incorrect to consider the residual ash as “recycling”, and the ash cannot be included in landfill diversion calculations. In fact, throughout Objective 6 the depletion of landfill capacity due to the ash has been ignored.

Please see this from Jackson County, Minnesota:

“One selling point for the incinerator in 1983, was that it would reduce the volume of trash going to the landfill, by 90 percent. However, only one half the trash delivered to the incinerator can be burned, so, 45 percent of Jackson’s trash by volume is diverted from the landfill. Comparatively, if, 50 percent of Jackson’s trash is recycled then, 50 percent of Jackson’s waste stream will be diverted from the landfill, at a fraction of the present cost, and with much better public health benefits.”

It has been calculated for the Frederick incinerator there will be multiple times the amount of ash (as much as 10 times) than what is needed for its current amount as landfill cover. This significant use of landfill capacity needs to be acknowledged.

If you were to read Covanta’s service contract for Montgomery County and Wheelabrator’s service contract for the proposed incinerator for Frederick County you will find there is no removal of recyclable materials prior to processing (aka burning) except for extracting White Goods. The slight increase of recycling rates (2-3%) due to the recovery of this metal can be achieved without incineration. The higher than average rate of recycling in Montgomery County is due to its recycling programs, and cannot be credited to its incinerator.

Trash incineration and recycling compete for many of the same resources – those with the highest BTUs, (An Energy Conservation Analysis; “Waste Incineration: A Dying Technology”, pg. 32), such as paper and plastics. In fact, the Montgomery and Frederick County service contracts provide a financial bonus to the service contractors to burn additional amounts of discards, a cost to the Counties if there is less material burned (Waste Shortfalls), and in the Performance Guarantees (Appendix 2) make accommodation for the burning of the higher BTUs.

These contractual terms incentivize burning, the incinerator operator has no responsibility to recover the recyclable material, and these facilities have a 30-50 year life expectancy. Therefore, trash incineration has to be eliminated from being considered “a bridge” to Zero Waste if Maryland wants to reach for an 85% diversion rate by 2040.

The Zero Waste International Alliance agrees, as evidenced by this letter written To Governor O’Malley dated January 24, 2014 wherein it states, “We therefore urge you to either eliminate your state’s plans for “waste-to-energy” or, at a minimum, do not continue to call such facilities a bridge to Zero Waste, as they are direct competitors. We view this as a direct infringement on the Zero Waste brand that we have worked for over a decade to develop.”


Because of the reasons stated above in order to follow the Materials Management Hierarchy as illustrated on page 23 of Maryland’s Zero Waste Plan, the methods included in your Objective 6 need to be removed, and the energy recovery methods as outlined by Zero Waste International Alliance will need to be incorporated:

Recover Energy/Bio-fuels only using systems that operate at biological temperature and pressure, such as sustainable biodiesel from used vegetable oils or biologically or chemically producing ethanol from urban wood, biosolids, manures or food scraps.”



The following paragraph is misleading and needs to be removed since it feeds the incinerator industry’s myth of the “burn or bury” model:

“When the choosing between waste-to-energy (WTE) and land-filling, WTE is often the preferred option. Use of WTE in lieu of land-filling can yield GHG and energy benefits. Methane, which composes approximately half of the gas generated in a landfill, is far more damaging (per ton emitted) from a climate change perspective than carbon dioxide, especially in the short term. WTE facilities produce almost no methane and, for many materials, generate lower greenhouse gas emissions than land-filling.77 WTE facilities can also reduce GHG emissions through generation of electricity that displaces higher carbon fossil fuel-fired generation.”

Utilizing Zero Waste principals and practices there is decreased landfilling, and since Zero Waste does not include trash incineration, it certainly cannot be “preferred”.

The only way it can be stated there are less CO2 emissions than landfilling is if the biogenic portion is ignored. This is a manipulation of the numbers rather than a true measurement of what is emitted.



Please use this source to understand the Zero Waste approach regarding landfills and incinerators:

“Stop Trashing the Climate”



On page 16 of Maryland’s draft Zero Waste Plan it states, “The Department expects three additional water reuse projects to be placed in service between 2015 and 2020: one power plant, one WTE facility, and one federal government data center. Together, these are expected to total an additional 9.8 million gallons per day.”

If this is counting on the proposed Frederick incinerator, you may want to eliminate this reference since Frederick County’s partner has withdrawn from this venture and many of the current candidates running for County positions are opposed to the facility. There is a high possibly it will not be built.

Additionally, if you review Article IX Water Delivery (b) Reservation of System Capacity of the Frederick service contract you’ll see that there is a requirement to have available potable water, not just Reclaimed Water:

“If the County is unable to deliver part or all of the Reclaimed Water required … at any time…the County shall deliver potable water … in lieu of Reclaimed Water… if potable water is delivered pursuant to this section 9.1(b), the delivery rate and peak flow rate requirements set forth in this Section 9.1(b) shall apply to all Water delivered pursuant to this Section 9.1(b)(the “Water Service”).”

This would be a considerable waste of water, not a savings through “reuse”.


To be considered a Zero Waste plan page 18 should reference and address “Reducing the Reliance on Landfills and Incinerators.”


greenstarschoolFinally, the report fails to address the importance of a school recycling and education. As a Case Study I’d suggest contacting Eco-cycle in Boulder, Colorado about its award winning Green Star School’s Program.

Thank you for the anticipated corrections to Maryland’s Zero Waste Plan.


Caroline Eader
“Reduce, Refuse, Return.” ~ Top of the ZW Hierarchy

To our readers…

Please send your comments to:

…even if you just write, “Please remove ‘Objective 6 – Recover Energy from Waste’, and replace with recovery of energy only using systems that operate at biological temperature and pressure, such as sustainable biodiesel from used vegetable oils or biologically or chemically producing ethanol from urban wood, biosolids, manures or food scraps.”