Southbridge landfill foes say delay in environmental master plan is costly

SOUTHBRIDGE —  State environmentalists, who have aligned with local opponents of the landfill here, took aim Thursday at the state’s master plan for reducing solid waste. They say it’s two years delayed. 

The Toxics Action Center and MassPIRG, members of an alliance of public interest and environmental groups around the state, argue the Southbridge landfill willcontinue to house a disproportionate amount of waste if the state does not come up with guidance on how to better manage waste. 

The Barefoot Road landfill, run by Casella Waste Systems, is permitted to deposit up to 300,000 tons per year of municipal solid waste, regardless of the waste’s origin. 

Meanwhile, state and local officials disagreed with the group’s criticism. 

On July 1, 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection released a draft solid-waste master plan for 2010 to 2020. Titled, “Pathway to Zero Waste,” it aims to reduce solid waste disposal by 30 percent, from 6.5 million tons in 2008 to 4.5 million tons in 2020. 

In the planning period, officials acknowledged the state would not get to zero waste, literally. It called to reduce the amount of resident- and business-produced waste by 80 percent by 2050, and essentially eliminate products containing toxic chemicals from disposal facilities. 

Each year the state disposes of enough trash to fill Fenway Park 74 times, and much of that material is reusable, the DEP says. 

The state held five public hearings across the state and received input from municipalities, businesses and industry, recycling advocacy groups, and residents. 

Weeks after the draft was released, a group from Southbridge and Sturbridge told state officials at the DEP’s Worcester office to be more aggressive about reducing household waste. 

Since then, the environmentalists argue, the draft has been sitting on the shelf, gathering dust, waiting to be finalized and shown to the public. 

“MassPIRG is thinking the next step is to make a dentist appointment for DEP,” Executive Director Janet Domenitz said. “That may be the only way to do the extraction needed for the final solid waste master plan.” 

DEP spokesman Joseph Ferson said yesterday his agency assists cities and towns every day to reduce, recycle and reuse waste, through hands-on technical assistance and grants

Single-stream recycling and pay-as-you-throw programs are flourishing, and these and other programs are proven, effective methods to promote recycling, Mr. Ferson said. 

“We are also leading the nation in promoting recycling with our plan to unlock the hidden energy value of organic waste, rather than discarding that waste into landfills and incinerators,” he said. “We recognize it is important to finalize the master plan to codify these ongoing activities, and we are in the final stages of review.” 

Kirstie L. Pecci, a lawyer who lives near the Southbridge landfill, said she is losing faith in the state’s ability to manage its waste. 

Ms. Pecci, who fought unsuccessfully in court to contest Southbridge’s conversion from a mostly construction and demolition landfill, to one that deposits household waste, said, “If they can’t even adopt a plan for solid waste, how can I believe that our practices and policies will ever improve?” 

Sylvia Broude, executive director of Toxics Action Center, said Massachusetts needs a roadmap to get to zero waste. Trash is piling in landfills, the state failed to pass bottle and e-waste bills, and municipalities and businesses are looking for direction, she said. 

Town Manager Christopher Clark said zero waste, while admirable, is not realistic. 

Mr. Clark said the town should conceivably be used as a model to increase recycling. 

Southbridge increased recycling from 16 percent in recent years to more than 42 percent in recent weeks by aggressively enforcing a decades-old trash regulation requiring people to use trash bags placed in tightly-closed barrels, and to recycle. The town ticketed people up to $250 for violating the rule. 

“Hopefully at some point in time we can get (recycling rate) numbers higher,” Mr. Clark said. “It’s an incremental process.”