In materials management, the public eye is usually focused on municipal solid waste (MSW), which is typical waste from households and businesses. But MSW is really only half of the story. The other half of our total waste is from Construction and Demolition (CDD) and other special types of waste. Materials like concrete, brick, wood waste, and land clearing debris are considered CDD. Special Wastes are things like incinerator ash, contaminated soils, and waste water treatment plant sludge.
Maine laws governing the recycling of CDD and special wastes are problematic. Our state has few CDD recycling facilities that are able to pull out valuable commodities, like metals, for true recycling. They also pull out “clean wood” to be chipped for fuel in biomass burning facilities (which could lead to another environmental problem); and can find some “beneficial uses” for other materials which prevent them from being landfilled (which, again, could lead to other environmental problems). However, the vast majority of materials that go into a CDD recycling facility in Maine actually end up in a landfill—and the worst part is that landfilling some of these materials is considered to be “recycling” under Maine law.
At the end of every day landfills need to be covered with something, and more sustainably managed landfills use a type of retractable tarp as a “daily cover,” which does not take up space and extends the life of the landfill. But this is not required in Maine. And instead, covering the landfill with CDD processing residue (or fines) each day is counted as recycling when a CDD recycling facility applies for its state licenses. The law states, “A solid waste processing facility that generates residue requiring disposal shall recycle or process into fuel for combustion all waste accepted at the facility to the maximum extent practicable, but in no case at a rate less than 50%. For purposes of this subsection, ‘recycle’ includes, but is not limited to, reuse of waste as shaping, grading or alternative daily cover materials at landfills; aggregate material in construction; and boiler fuel substitutes.”
Because of this language, Maine’s CDD facilities feel as if they can claim a much higher recycling rate than what is actually being recycled, and is in fact being landfilled. NRCM doesn’t believe that anything that goes into a landfill should be considered recycling in any context—particularly if there is a more sustainable solution.
Another troubling issue is that Maine does not mandate that CDD waste go to a recycling facility—so Maine-generated CDD waste often goes directly to landfill without any recycling at all. Other states, like Massachusetts, do mandate that CDD waste go to a recycling facility. While Massachusetts is doing the right thing, and because of Maine’s has a backwards definition of what constitutes CDD recycling, it actually leads Massachusetts to send a lot of CDD waste to Maine facilities, and ultimately, our landfills.
Maine-owned landfills, like Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town, are prohibited from accepting out-of-state waste. But our laws provide a big loophole: Maine law states that “waste generated within the State includes residue and bypass generated by incineration, processing and recycling facilities within the State or waste, whether generated within the State or outside of the State, if it is used for daily cover, frost protection or stability…” This means that out of state waste, disguised as in-state waste, is filling Maine-owned landfills. And it’s totally legal.
All of this waste needs a place to go, but we can clearly do a lot better by trying to limit the amount of material going into our landfills. We can do this through changes in our laws and by implementing best practices for CDD waste reduction and management. Landfills are forever, and we need to do our best to minimize what we waste before we consider expanding our landfill capacity.