Massachusetts to Lift Ban on Landfills

Massachusetts to Lift Ban on Landfills

State officials, saying that Massachusetts is running out of places to put its garbage, say they plan to lift a five-year ban on new landfills, a move that is sure to reopen the environmental battle over trash disposal.

Massachusetts, which annually exports some 1.5 million tons of garbage to other states, would absorb all its refuse and become self-sufficient in trash disposal under the plan, state officials said.

But to do that, advocacy groups said state residents may see between five and 15 landfill expansions or new dumps built over the next five years. The state has not said how many new landfills might have to be opened to accommodate the increased trash disposal.

Landfill operators in Cohasset, Northampton, and Carver have already begun clearing environmental hurdles in hopes of expanding, according to Clean Water Action, an environmental advocacy group.

The plan — two years in the making — stopped short of lifting a moratorium on incinerators, a move environmentalists originally feared. Another key provision will create a one-of-a-kind institute at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell to start working with manufacturers of carpeting, electronics, pesticides, and other products to to limit waste and even recycle items when consumers are finished with them.

"We think it's a balanced plan that sets aggressive goals," said Lauren Liss, the state's Department of Environmental Protection commissioner. Overall, the state pledges to reduce waste by 70 percent by 2010, in large part by doing a better job of recycling construction debris and household refuse.

"We've made tremendous progress in the state ... and still have a way to go," said Liss.

Critics say opening landfills is a move in the wrong direction. The 70 percent goal is too low, they contend, and more aggressive recycling programs and strict laws about the design and packaging of consumer goods could achieve a higher rate.

"We congratulate them for the trash incinerators," said John McNabb of Clean Water Action. "But they have not proven that there is any need for new landfills. The state can take care of the shortfall if they make stronger efforts to reduce waste [that is generated] and increase recycling."

Apartment dwellers eager to recycle, however, got a piece of good news with yesterday's announcement: The state will recommend that the Legislature require landlords to provide recycling for residents in buildings with four or more units. A home-composting program will also be expanded, as will collections of household hazardous waste.

Still, even if the 70 percent goal is reached, the state will be facing an overflow of garbage because Massachusetts is producing 31 percent more waste than it did 10 years ago. The booming economy is producing more goods, which in turn produces more waste.

The lifting of the five-year landfill moratorium comes more than a decade after the state began closing unlined landfills because of contaminants that were leaking into the soil. In the 1990s, 100 landfills were closed, and only about 20 are still operating statewide. Although the ban was in place, the state approved the expansion of four landfills in the last two years because of the state's lack of space. The last new landfill opened was in Dartmouth in 1988.

Tuesday's announcement is already promising controversy in the Massachusetts legislature, with a bill filed two weeks ago to reinstate the moratorium on new landfills.

"We did it in anticipation of this announcement," said Rep. Mark Carron, a Democrat from Southbridge who co-sponsored the bill. "It's not a good use of land. The lifting of the moratorium is a disincentive to recycle."

Story by Beth Daley, The Boston Globe. Copyright 2000, The Boston Globe. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

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