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Incinerator Moratorium Update

The Massachusetts DEP has released their “Master Plan” for solid waste management in Massachusetts. The major components in the plan include increase in recycling, reduction in overall waste, monitoring and enforcement of waste bans, and modification to the incinerator moratorium. The proposed modification of the incinerator moratorium would encourage the use of alternative technologies, such as gasification, for converting waste to energy or fuel under certain conditions (nma.org).

The incinerator moratorium was introduced in 1988. At that time there were fourteen applications at DEP for new incinerators to be built. Fourteen were way too much for the DEP to handle. Having that many incinerators would mean our state would be burning all trash/MSW. Possibly hurting municipal recycling programs. 

Incinerators and waste to energy facilities (WTE) will still technically be banned from being built. The modification will allow some new technologies to be exempt.

The exemptions would be to allow small onsite incinerators for places such as prisons and universities to process their waste onsite. These onsite operations must also have a way to separate out any recyclable/banned materials.

One of the new technologies proposed would be gasification. Gasification uses high heat to convert wastes such as construction debris, household trash, and sewage into three gases: carbon monoxide, methane and hydrogen. These gases can then be used to produce electricity or as a substitute for fuels. 

According to the DEP’s waste bans recyclables such as paper and cardboard are illegal to burn. DEP has had a huge cut in staff over the past few years. They haven’t had the manpower to enforce these bans. According to the DEP’s website they are now hiring, especially people to help enforce waste bans. Waste bans are laws that make it illegal to burn or landfill recyclable or hazardous materials. Haulers and facilities can be heavily found fined if they accepted banned materials. Also in the Master Plan the DEP will use third party monitors to help enforce waste bans.

There are many groups strongly against any incinerator or WTE facilities being built. The sad truth is we create waste there is no way around it. Many groups oppose incinerators/WTE facilities because of a possible increase in pollutants released into the air. This is a valid argument. Most facilities have equipment setup to filter the exhaust, but some pollutants will escape.

Massachusetts is a small state with a large population. That means we do not have much room for landfills to bury our trash. Where does our waste go? Out of state. We ship about two million tons a year to other states. Shipping trash out of state happens in many states not just here. We have large trash trucks, tractor-trailers and trains hauling trash all over New England. These vehicles are diesel powered and travel very large distances. That equals pollution.

All landfills have a life span. Eventually they reach their capacity and have to be caped. Massachusetts has some landfills in operation. It is believed that most landfills currently operating in our state will reach capacity by 2016. This would mean more shipping of our waste out of state.

The best way to handle MSW is to cut down on the waste. There are many ideas on how to do this. One is to starts with the producers and retailers of products we buy, less usage of Styrofoam and other non-recyclable items. Also an increase in composting our organic waste can cut down greatly on our MSW that is burned or landfilled. These ideas and plans will not start showing a decrease today, it will take time. We have waste now that needs to be taken care of.

I’m not trying to tell you lets start burning all of our trash right now and incinerators/WTE facilities are our answer. Under certain circumstances they may be practical to use. 

Sources:

MMA, 2013.

mma.org/public-works-energy-a-utilities/11755-dep-proposes-to-modify-incinerator-moratorium

MASS Recycle conference April, 2013.

MA DEP. mass.gov/dep/