Institute for Local Self­‐Reliance comments on draft “Zero Waste Plan”

Brenda Platt

Brenda Platt

EDITORS NOTE: The Maryland Department of the Environment and the O’Malley administration is writing a long term waste management plan titled “Zero Waste Maryland“. The goals are ambitious and laudable — and achievable. The DRAFT document is fairly thorough and detailed, but individuals and organizations submitted comments to offer suggestions and/or point out certain flaws and omissions.

This week, Brenda Platt, Co-­‐Director of the Institute for Local Self-­Reliance submitted the excellent comments below. We hope MDE and the O’Malley administration receive these comments with an open mind, and review them thoroughly.


Robert M. Summers, Ph.D.
Maryland Department of the Environment
Montgomery Park Business Center
1800 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21230

Dear Dr. Summers,

Congratulations to you and your staff for drafting a Zero Waste Plan for public comment. The Institute for Local Self-­‐Reliance has been an early champion of zero waste planning and we helped write some of the first local zero waste plans as well as the first national zero waste action plan. I am thrilled that my home state is embracing zero waste planning and couldn’t agree more with the statement in the plan: “Maryland is well positioned to move toward zero waste” (p. 17). Indeed, Maryland could easily integrate the best features of the best programs and policies to become the leading state in this area. I look forward to working with MDE to make this a reality. We have been tracking model state and local policies and programs for many years and our expertise in this area has already informed the development of Maryland’s new permitting regulations for compost facilities. I was pleased to participate on both the statewide Solid Waste and Recycling Study Group and the statewide Composting Workgroup.

I have many comments on the draft plan. While the comments shared below tend to focus on areas for improvement, let me emphasize that there are many excellent initiatives in the plan. These include but are not limited to: pay-­‐as-­‐you-­‐throw programs, school outreach, business technical assistance, beverage bottle deposits, carryout bag fees, documenting model programs, and providing guidance materials.

Definition of Zero Waste and Zero Waste Goals: I applaud the plan for adopting the international consensus definition for zero waste as developed by the Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA). This definition is important to clarify that the goal is to reduce waste flowing to all disposal facilities not just landfills. ZWIA considers 90% diversion from landfills and incinerators as reaching zero waste. MDE might consider adopting a 90% goal by 2050 in order to be in line with internationally accepted definitions of zero waste planning and measurement. I note that the language on p. 20 may be problematic as it states that “the State strives to reduce over time the percentage of Maryland-­‐ generated waste that is landfilled, with an ultimate goal of 100% diversion from landfill by 2040.” This is confusing as the plan embraces zero waste to landfills and incinerators (as it should) and an overall waste diversion goal of 85% by 2040. I recommend removing this reference to 100% diversion from landfill by 2040. Less important but still worth addressing are references on p. 24 to Washington, DC’s goal for 80% waste diversion (including incineration) and to San Francisco counting landfill cover as recycling. DC is not a good model as the goal is not codified in law nor yet implemented in any way, and this part of the Mayor’s plan is controversial. Regarding the San Francisco reference, this should be changed to California as it is the State that allows landfill cover to count, not specifically San Francisco.

Pay As You Throw: “Pay As You Throw” volume-­‐ or weight-­‐based systems for trash collection are critically important to achieving zero waste. While unlimited trash set-­‐outs may be perceived as a customer-­‐friendly service, it limits local government’s ability to control costs (and waste). So glad PAYT is included in the plan. I recommend moving this strategy to the Source Reduction section as volume-­‐ based fees reduce the overall tonnage set out at the curb by 20%, significantly cutting trash collection 2 costs. One study indicates that communities with such programs dispose of 44% less waste than communities without a unit-­‐based structure for garbage. Please note that we now call such fee programs SMART systems: Save Money and Reduce Trash. EPA has determined that the branding of these programs is important and better to highlight it saves jurisdictions money rather than costing money (“save” vs “pay”).

Measuring Waste Diversion: Allowing incinerator ash to count as recycling is a perverse incentive to incinerate. The plan indicates that recycling rates are calculated using EPA’s guide on how to measure recycling (Measuring Recycling: A Guide for State and Local Governments) but combustion ash is not one of the materials that counts as recycling in EPA’s guide. The trend to utilize incinerator ash and disperse it throughout the environment is alarming. The EPA guide also specifically excludes from recycling the combustion of tire chips for energy recovery. EPA also does not count source reduction, reuse, or repair as recycling, whereas MDE provides the source reduction credit, for instance, for backyard composting. ILSR is in favor of incentivizing source reduction and reuse/repair but not incineration of any sort. We recommend that the State re-­‐evaluate the source reduction credit to determine its validity and if source reduction needs to be measured or incentivized a different way (such as comparing waste generation per cap from one year to the next). A credit of 5% toward the recycling rate for responding to a checklist of strategies needs to be validated as reasonable. Has the State ever assessed if the 5% credit is valid based on the activities undertaken?

Development of Alternative Financing Mechanisms: We agree that financing and funding for zero waste strategies need to be prioritized. My experience on the statewide Solid Waste and Recycling Study Group has led me to believe that seeking stakeholder input, while worthwhile, will not achieve the goal as stakeholder forums have too many vested interests at the table. For instance, the beverage container industry was very effective at derailing any conversation and recommendations around beverage deposit legislation, which has been proven to achieve high recycling levels, high value commodities, and provide funding mechanisms to support recycling and recycling-­‐based remanufacturing. I urge MDE to look at evidence-­‐based effective financing mechanisms and promote state legislation to implement them. Further, I strongly support adequate funding for MDE and its staff to implement the plan and its recommendations.

In-­‐State Capacity Needed: On p. 22, the plan states “Materials are likely to cross county, State, and even national borders multiple times throughout their lifetime.” P. 20 of the plan states “it is assumed in this Plan that the current proportion of exports (43% of disposal) will continue throughout the planning period.” I urge MDE not to assume this but rather identify strategies in the zero waste plan to reverse and reduce this. One key overall strategy that seems to be missing in the plan is a goal to create in-­‐state reuse, repair, recycling, and composting public and private enterprises/facilities. A goal to maximize the in-­‐state recovery, processing, and reuse or remanufacture — i.e., closing the loop locally — would be a worthwhile goal for Maryland. The state has made significant improvements in the past two decades towards greater recycling infrastructure. However, the current lack of local manufacturing from recycled content is further evidence that much of the material leaves the state, creating skilled jobs and generating revenue elsewhere. Supporting small businesses that manufacture end-­‐use products from 50-­‐100% post-­‐consumer and/or post-­‐industrial recycled materials will increase the amount of waste diverted from landfilling or incineration, create a skilled labor force, and generate greater local revenue. One way to support a greater remanufacturing industry is to implement a system of identifying and tracking specific recycling activities. While Maryland currently keeps a general directory of businesses that handle recycled material, keeping data on which stage(s) of the chain — e.g. recovery, hauling, processing, reuse, manufacturing — these businesses represent will provide a more accurate picture of how many and which local companies utilize recycled material to manufacture their products. This will not only allow MDE to track developments in the industry, but also to connect with these businesses directly to gain better understanding of their operations, needs, and business goals. A recycling tracking system will also provide better information on where materials, and thus the revenue, flow to next. Maryland can then conduct a detailed assessment of the flow of diverted waste to identify opportunities to capture a greater percentage locally. Maryland should also assess its existing policies and find ways to provide incentives for companies to integrate recycled content in their products and operations. Arizona, for example, offers a 10% tax credit on installed equipment for individuals and corporations that produce finished products using at least 25% post-­‐consumer recycled materials. Recycling businesses in Iowa qualify for property tax exemptions for equipment used in reprocessing paper, cardboard or plastic products. Idaho-­‐based recycling businesses receive a 20% equipment credit up to $30,000 per year if their post-­‐consumer paper, glass, or plastic products are 90% recycled content or higher. Montana put the incentive on the consumer by establishing an income tax credit for individuals who purchase products made from reclaimed material. Florida implemented an income tax credit of $500 for each new employee added as a result of incorporating recycled products into a business’ process. Similarly, New Mexico’s policy limits its tax credit “to recycling equipment that creates jobs, rather than reducing the workforce.” In contrast, Maryland’s current tax policy for recycling businesses does not include specific incentives for remanufacturing operations and does not apply to all counties. ILSR’s July 2013 paper, Closing the Loop in Maryland: Recycling-­‐Based Businesses Create Skilled Jobs, Divert Waste, and Capture Local Revenue, addresses this critical issue. It is attached to this letter.

Materials Management Hierarchy: On p. 23, the plan discussed EPA’s solid waste management hierarchies and mentions that these are good illustrations of zero waste principles. Sadly, EPA’s solid waste management hierarchy no longer reflects the best thinking of experts on how to reduce and manage waste. Yes, reduce, reuse, recycle, compost are still widely recognized as the top priorities but the energy recovery and disposal levels of the hierarchy are more nuanced and frankly controversial. Mass burn waste incinerators that generate electricity are opposed by every major environmental group. And for good reason. For one, they require waste and make the job of conserving resources harder not easier. Capital costs are enormous, dwarfing nuclear power plants on a megawatt-­‐for-­‐megawatt basis. They produce more CO2 per megawatt hour than natural gas and even coal. While new incinerators emit less air pollution than their predecessors, they are far from clean, releasing acid gases, particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, mercury, lead, dioxins, and more. Trash incinerators typically lock counties into high debt payments and put-­‐or-­‐ pay contracts stipulating certain quantities of waste be delivered. I urge MDE not to embrace incineration as the preferred solid waste disposal option over landfills. The Zero Waste International Alliance has developed a hierarchy through an international consensus process that better reflects the state-­‐of-­‐the-­‐art thinking on strategies that should be prioritized on the road to zero waste. See graphic. Within organics materials management, ILSR supports a more nuanced hierarchy that takes into account scale, ownership, and the level of community engagement. In general, we believe locally based systems should be prioritized over centralized systems. Locally based composting is important to support local food production and keep our backyards and streetscapes rich in organic matter. (Training programs are needed to ensure small-­‐scale decentralized sites are well operated.)


Organics Diversion: Thank you for including organics diversion as one of 9 core objectives to meeting the state’s zero waste goals. The list of initiatives listed under this goal could be strengthened, such as including all those recommended by the statewide Composting Workgroup. This is critically important given the importance of composting to reaching high diversion levels and the lack of adequate infrastructure in the State. Initiative 3.5, p. 39, is one initiative that could be greatly strengthened. The timeline for the disposal ban on commercial and institutional organics could be accelerated and tied to the development of new infrastructure as proposed in MD HB1081 (modeled after similar legislation passed in CT and VT and proposed in RI and CA). See attached FAQs that I helped prepare on HB1081. Please consider supporting passage of this legislation in 2015 with requirements for diverting food residuals effective January 1, 2016.

Connect Compost to Carbon Sequestration and Water Conservation: P. 27 of the plan mentions the greenhouse gas emissions that could be avoided via zero waste strategies. Encouraging use of compost has additional climate benefits that could be recognized in the plan, namely that adding organic matter via compost to soils sequesters carbon. There is a significant and growing body of evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of compost to store carbon in soil for a wide range of soil types and land uses. My upcoming report, The State of Composting in the US, provides more details on this and I would be happy to provide references. P. 31 of the plan lists water conservation as a source reduction strategy. It might be good to connect the benefit of compost to conserve water. When compost is added to soil it improves soil structure and its capacity to retain water. For this reason, some cities are requiring new lawns to incorporate compost as a water-­‐saving measure (Leander, Texas, and Greeley and Denver, Colorado). Montgomery County, Maryland’s RainScapes Program incentivizes the use of compost in raingardens and new landscapes. These innovative programs and policies could easily be adopted across the state.

Policies to Promote Source Reduction and Target Single-­‐Use Products: The last paragraph on p. 29 discusses Buy Recycled programs in the context of source reduction. Buying recycled-­‐content products is very important but I recommend this section be moved elsewhere as it is not a source reduction strategy. Also recommending changing the bullet on “more efficient consumer behavior” (p. 30) to “Less wasteful citizen behavior.” Can we move away from calling people “consumers”? The term “consumer” reinforces a wasteful culture. One source reduction initiative missing is policies to reduce single-­‐use products such as polystyrene foodservice ware or retail bags. Product bans and fees have been proven effective. When we change the rules we impact all citizen behavior. The outreach and education campaigns are needed to also support policy changes and the development of SMART programs (as mentioned above). Single-­‐use products that are non-­‐reusable, non-­‐recyclable, and non-­‐ compostable ultimately need to be phased out. The plan should identify more strategies to do this. The proliferation of single-­‐use products is something that has taken place in essentially a single generation. The pendulum needs to swing back to durable products! How can Maryland encourage reusable and durable products? Yes, education and outreach are critical but changing the rules and legislation will also be needed. ILSR strongly supports the plan’s call to adopt a carryout bag reduction and recycling law and a beverage container recycling law, and to consider product bans for non-­‐recyclable materials.

Accelerate Timelines: Many of the timelines seem arbitrary and no explanation is provided as to why some are listed in the 2014-­‐2020 timeframe versus the 2021-­‐2025 or 2026-­‐2030 timeframe. I suspect this may have to do with staffing and resources at MDE, which is why adequate funding is such a high priority. In general, I recommend that timelines for priority initiatives be accelerated. These might include: promoting SMART/PAYT programs; grants/loans for in-­‐state reuse, repair, recycling/composting programs; recovery requirements for large-­‐scale food waste generators; product bans/fees for non-­‐recyclable materials and other products; and programs and outreach at schools. In general, many of the initiatives are framed as conducting a study to assess an action. We urge the plan to reframe initiatives to be outcome and action based as much as possible. Too many initiatives based on studying issues weakens the overall plan.

Extended Producer Responsibility: The report misstates the nature of EPR. (See, for example, p. 33, last paragraph.) EPR must be taking management control of the material or taking fiscal responsibility. There is a direct danger to the free market recycling system if industry is allowed to take complete control over the recycling infrastructure. In CT, the EPR law for mattresses has established a corporate controlled working group that will set rules for recycling mattresses. Citizens and small businesses have no direct say in setting up the regulations. Thus the industry can decide to burn all mattresses, an option which is cheaper than recycling and refurbishing mattresses. But the latter option will create hundreds of jobs and support two existing mattress recycling enterprises already operating in the state. Further, the report does not distinguish between EPR for materials and products that have no value and are in fact dangerous if left in a community versus EPR for materials that are already handled by existing markets – paper, plastic, metals, organics. When this happens small recycling businesses are driven out of business, we see monopoly pricing by the industry controlled stewardship agency, and citizens at the local level are removed from the decision-­‐making process as public assets and policy development are reserved for corporations. Here are guidelines for using EPR in different market scenarios:

    • If the material has no value and is dangerous (such as batteries), let the companies that made them be responsible for them.

    • If the material has value and value added potential (processing and manufacturing), we want to keep in the local/regional economy.

    • If there are existing markets for a material, then let the existing system handle this, no EPR stewards to realign the markets in their favor.

We urge the State to never allow for corporate/industry hegemony over the system – EPR does not mean ownership and control. EPR should be under control of local government. The Berkeley Zero Waste Commission developed policy guidelines for EPR that establishes local government control. The Berkeley City Council approved this policy. The Global Recycling Council of the California Resource Recovery Association established similar policy guidelines establishing local control.

There are other significant ways to impact the waste stream without providing a monopoly by brand name corporations. For example both the CA bottle bill and electronic scrap regulations call for an upfront fee to finance the proper handling and recycling of post consumer covered products. This provides funding for the state to provide cities, small businesses and local governments with capital to invest in new and expanded companies and programs. CA has financed the recycling and electronic scrap systems as a result of this available capital. There are over 600 for profit and non-­‐profit enterprises in the CA electronic scrap sector as a result of the advanced fee as opposed to an EPR system.

Where there is no market for products – mercury switches, batteries, paint, carpets, EPR industry take back organizations can function well without disrupting existing markets. Ultimately, some products and packages may be subject to bans such as aerosol cans, polystyrene foodservice ware and plastic bags.

Sections 2.7 (pp. 36) and sections 4.2 and 4.3 (pp. 41-­‐42) distort the workings of EPR in Europe, Canada and the US. In British Columbia, Canada, the corporate stewardship program is meeting stiff resistance from public and local officials who fear that monopoly control by a few corporations will distort markets through pre set prices, hurt small recycling businesses which are not selected as agents of the new bureaucracy and reduce input into policy making by citizens. In Europe, Germany has already dismantled its industry monopoly, which was found to cost up to 50% more than private sector companies in a competitive market. Sweden is thinking of doing the same thing. A Danish study in 2007 predicted this problem caused by lack of competition in the market place. The appendix on EPR, pp. 55-­‐ 56, pp. 55-­‐56, does not contain current information about European EPR.

EPR for medical wastes (discussed on p. 43, section 4.6) has increased incineration of the pharmaceuticals and the plastic containers that they are shipped in. An alternative EPR program would require research and development by the industry to determine highest and best use of chemicals in the products. This will reduce pollution from incineration, and make an important statement about green chemical efforts.

Multiple state EPR programs (discussed p. 53, section 7.3) can actually reduce innovation. In PA the electronic scrap EPR law has even increased costs of handling e-­‐scrap by local governments. The state had to provide special funding to subsidize county programs. Further, contracts under EPR laws do not distinguish between reuse and recycling. Segregating reusable machines allows for local repair and redistribution, which contributes to lowering costs and bridging the digital divide between low income and higher income families and communities. Only one state – IL – provides incentives for recovering used machines. But data is not being collected and it is difficult to understand how refurbishing of e-­‐ scrap is progressing. This issue is solved when an advanced purchase fee is imposed as in CA. There, small businesses and non-­‐profit programs have emerged as a result of revenues from state funds collected for investment purposes.

Yet another approach is made possible by eco-­‐ATM, Inc. This company operates kiosks where consumers drop off reusable electronic products for cash. Recovered products are refurbished for resale. This company has provided over $200,000 to clients in just one county in MD last year.

Rewrite Objective 6 – Recover Energy from Waste: This objective, discussed p. 47, may be the most problematic as it endorses waste incineration, which has no place in a zero waste plan that is designed to minimize waste sent to landfills and incinerators. As mentioned above, I urge the State not to embrace incineration over landfilling. The state needs policies that allow municipalities and counties to realize cost-­‐effective solutions, not get locked in to the most expensive solution possible – incineration. The financial albatross that incineration will pose for the state would be devastating. Incinerators are the most expensive solid waste management option, require trash to make good on bond payments, create fewer jobs than other options, and are highly polluting. Waste incinerators do not produce clean energy. There is ample evidence documenting this including specific Maryland reports (see, for instance, The Environmental Integrity Project’s 2011 report, Waste-­‐To-­‐Energy, Dirtying Maryland’s Air by Seeking a Quick Fix on Renewable Energy?). The study cited on p. 47 — Recycling and Waste-­‐to-­‐ Energy: Are They Compatible? — has nothing to do with zero waste planning. Comparing recycling rates in communities with incinerators to the national average is inconsequential. The key question is what is taking place in cities that have embraced zero waste planning? What are they doing? What waste diversion levels have they achieved? Cities that have embraced zero waste planning – Seattle, San Fran, Austin, to name a few – have made a conscious decision not to burn because it is so widely recognized as an obstacle to reaching zero waste and comprehensive composting. Further, the discussion on p. 48 heralding incineration’s reported greenhouse reduction benefits (which ILSR disputes) ignores the other downsides of incineration: high capital investment, need for trash, fewer jobs, other pollution, etc. Initiative 6.1, p. 49, mentions that MDE is already reviewing the available literature and local experiences to understand environmental impacts of available disposal options. We urge MDE to include in this assessment documentation of permit emissions violations and an assessment of how often all pollutants emitted from incinerators are measured and reported. Finally, ILSR supports anaerobic digestion of source-­‐separated organics but recommends that the State be sure to support a diversified infrastructure for organics recovery that includes small-­‐scale locally based composting as a priority before large-­‐scale capital-­‐intensive anaerobic digestion (or composting) facilities.

Provide Sample Outreach and Education Materials: Objective 8 focuses on conducting education and outreach. Among the initiatives listed, I recommend adding somewhere that the state produce sample outreach/marketing/publicity materials such as social media, advertising, posters that businesses and local jurisdictions could adapt and replicate. Training is also important.

Outreach and Education and Zero Waste Planning at Schools: P. 54 of the plan calls for outreach at schools, which we highly endorse. We submit that targeting today’s youth may be the most important strategy for achieving zero waste by 2040. We recommend that the timeline for implementing this strategy be accelerated and that the strategy itself be made much more robust. Getting rid of single-­‐use polystyrene trays and the individually wrapped plastic forks are critical for instance. There should be a concerted effort to make the public schools zero waste schools. Many parts of the curriculum could involve some aspect of zero waste and be integrated with other environmental health goals such as local food production (gardens need compost!) and reducing stormwater run-­‐off (raingardens need compost!). Kids could be doing a lot of hands-­‐on projects (which they love!) such as weighing discards and tracking waste diversion levels. In addition to cooking, repair classes could be offered. There is an almost endless list of strategies that today’s youth could be engaged in to reinforce less wasteful behavior now and in the future. We caution that any environmental literacy program introduced into the school system not be corporate-­‐sponsored. ILSR conducted a Zero Waste Lunch Day on April 30th with a local MD elementary school. We achieved an 86% waste diversion by recycling beverage and food containers, using compostable napkins and trays, using real metal forks, and composting food scraps. The compostables alone diverted 51%! This underscores the need to emphasize composting in our institutions and communities as the critical step for moving toward a zero waste economy. Young composters become old composters.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide comments on the draft plan. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide further information or elaborate on any of my recommendations.



Brenda Platt
Institute for Local Self-­‐Reliance
2001 S St., NW,
Suite 570
Washington, DC 20009
202-­‐898-­‐1610 x 230

Institute for Local Self-­‐Reliance on the web

Institute for Local Self-Reliance, MD-DC Compost Council, and the American Biogas Council
Background, FAQs, & Reasons to Support House Bill 1081
Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Facilities – Yard Waste and Food Residuals
February 2014

Institute for Local Self-Reliance
Closing the Loop in Maryland: Recycling-Based Businesses Create Skilled Jobs, Divert Waste, and Capture Local Revenue
July 2013