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Activists back recycling, not landfills; Environmentalists submit petition about master plan.

Byline: John J. Monahan

BOSTON - Several environmental groups working to influence a new statewide 10-year master plan for solid waste, including landfill expansion opponents from Southbridge, have delivered a petition with 12,000 names to state officials calling for more recycling and fewer landfills and trash incinerators.

Lucy C. Edmondson, deputy director for policy at the Department of Environmental Protection, said Friday that state officials are drawing up the plan that would serve as a roadmap for handling trash in the state for the next decade.

While public hearings will be held after the draft is released, she said, there has already been a lot of debate over how to deal with the state's trash and promote more recycling.

"There has been very robust public discussion about the solid waste master plan," she said, some of which has emerged at a series of public workshops held since the start of the year.

While some waste disposal companies have pressed for an end to a 10-year-old moratorium on new incinerators, environmental groups are calling for the moratorium to continue and for less reliance on landfills for waste disposal.

Ms. Edmondson said the core of the current master plan adopted in 1999 - expanded reliance on reducing, reusing and recycling trash and finding ways to expand recycling further - will be an important element of the master plan.

Now, she said, "We think there are a lot of opportunities to increase recycling, by expanding markets and increasing recycling at businesses and in communities." The plan will also evaluate future use of landfills and include a re-assessment and possible continuation of the incinerator moratorium.

Janet Domenitz, executive director of Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group which helped sponsor the petition drive, said DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt will be facing critical decisions on the future of recycling and the environmental impact of trash disposal while putting the plan together in the coming weeks.

"The commissioner has a clear choice - a decade of more garbage, more burying, and more burning, or a plan which finally gets us on an ambitious road to reduce, reuse, and recycle," Ms. Domenitz said.

Currently, DEP officials said, about 33 percent of municipal trash is recycled in the state, while the recycling rate for all solid waste, including commercial waste, is 44 percent.

Kirstie L. Pecci, a lawyer working with the Residents for Alternative Trash Solutions in Southbridge, said a lot is at stake in the master plan, which could impact plans for future expansion or a possible trash incineration plant at the Southbridge landfill opposed by the group that includes about 300 residents.

She said the group is in a legal fight against a town site assignment decision that would allow a possible expansion of the Southbridge landfill that could make it the largest municipal solid waste landfill in the state. Not only does that group want a continuation of the moratorium on new incinerators to prevent any attempt to site an incinerator at the Southbridge landfill, but also wants the state to plot a path to greatly expand recycling and sparingly use landfills and incinerators.

"Our community will suffer if the DEP does not adopt sustainable zero waste policies. Southbridge could have the biggest municipal solid waste landfill in the state and possibly a new incinerator," she said.

The waste companies, she argued, will continue to rely on disposal options, "as long as they are allowed to" even though burying and burning waste is more costly than reuse and recycling. She said long-term incinerator contracts to deliver minimum amounts of trash tonnage, can have the effect of putting a cap on community recycling.

Toxic pollution represents another element of the debate.

Sylvia Broude of the Toxics Action Center, which has organized hazardous waste site cleanups and advocated reducing use of toxic chemicals for many years, issued a report recently critical of pollution caused by waste to energy incinerators.

She said the report debunks the idea that waste to energy plants that burn trash to produce electricity are a clean technology.

DEP officials also will have to wrestle with a longstanding problem posed by the state exporting much of its solid waste for disposal to other states.

Contact John J. Monahan by e-mail at
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 16, 2009
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