Trash Crisis Is Driving Cost Increases, Selectmen Told

By: William F. Galvin

Topics: Recycling and Solid Waste

The town was warned about an impending trash crisis with the closing of landfills and aging waste-to-energy facilities. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO

HARWICH — The town will be facing difficult decisions on how to move forward with its disposal of trash, were told selectmen on Monday night.

ABC Disposal Services Inc. Vice President Michael A. Camara made clear that the cost of trash disposal will be increasing. He raised issues relating to the ability to find ways to dispose of municipal solid waste (MSW) as landfills close across the state and international markets dry up.

“The total loss of disposal options in Massachusetts is staggering due to the fact that no new capacity has been developed,” Camara said. “Year 2020 will be a tough year. Southeast Massachusetts will be losing 300,000 tons of disposal annual capacity and 1,743,400 tons of lost solid waste disposal capacity from 2014 to 2020.”

Camara was before the board to push for an increase from $62 to $75 a ton under a force majeure provision in the existing contract, claiming the company faces “uncontrollable circumstances” causing the increases for waste disposal. The five-year contract, which is with ABC’s New Bedford Waste Services, is due to expire at the end of December.

But the picture painted by Camara for trash disposal in the commonwealth was not a good one. Given the aging waste-to-energy incinerators and the direction the state Department of Environmental Protection is moving with regard to MSW, the state is looking to boost recycling initiatives.

DEP has just released a draft 10-year solid waste master plan for review that seeks to reduce the 5.7 million tons of solid waste generated in the commonwealth by 1.7 million tons over the next decade. Over the next 30 years DEP wants to reduce trash disposal by 90 percent through the removal of food waste, textiles, bulky items and recycling.

Camara said DEP has a history of decisions impacting waste disposal in the state, including bans 20 years ago on the expansion of waste-to-energy facilities and a focus on polices designed to increase recycling. He said waste bans have been implemented at disposal facilities and landfill expansion permits were not easily obtainable.

“Recycling was the focus and disposal would be reduced,” Camara said.

There was a goal in 2000 of removing 46 percent of solid waste through recycling, but the current rate is around 23 percent, he said. He challenged the DEP goal of 90 percent reduction by 2050. “It never really happens,” he said of state plans.

But ABC has a plan. They constructed the Zero Waste Facility in Rochester designed to help the state reach its goals. The plan was designed to handle recycling and MSW. Part of that process was to make a fuel briquette  with materials that could not be recycled and sell them to biomass-fired plants in New Hampshire. But the state changed the way it issued renewable energy credits and biomass plants shut down, he said.

Camara said in 2017 China raised issues about the quality of recyclable material being imported and established more stringent contamination rates, lowering the amount of recyclable material it took from 15 to 20 percent to 0.5 percent. The steady decline in global commodity pricing, which is at a 25 year low, is also a factor. Cardboard, for instance, has declined from $160 per ton to $30 per ton. Glass is moving at MSW disposal rates, he said.

“Materials are moving slowly with the closure of domestic plants and the loss of the China market,” he said.

Given these conditions, aging waste-to-energy facilities and closing landfills, Camara said transfer stations will fill up and need to be shut down.

Exporting waste is a direction haulers are heading, with outlets in New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, he said. But he questioned what will happen if these states stop importing waste. There's a potential for further increases in market prices should that happen, he said.

Camara questioned whether the state had a backup plan, and said alternative technologies such as waste incineration through gasification are not likely to happen.

“Every citizen and business owner in the state is affected by DEP’s decisions,” Camara said.

He called on DEP to lift waste-to-energy plant moratoriums; allow for more landfill permit expansions; reactivate closed landfills that have air space; and to ban organic food waste. Organic waste accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the waste stream by weight, he said. Harwich should implement a town-wide food waste ban, he added.

Camara told selectmen his company will still operate the Zero Waste Facility, processing recycling as they rethink the MSW processing line, and will be installing new baling machines to make it easier to export waste out of state.

What does it all mean for Harwich? Increased tipping fees through the end of 2019 and beyond, said Camara.

“It’s a difficult situation we’re working to address,” he said.

DPW Director Lincoln Hooper said he has been in contact with Covanta, which operates the SEMASS waste-to-energy facility, about a three-year contract and was quoted a price of $90 a ton for the first year, $95 the second year and $100 in the third year. But Covanta will not take all the trash the town generates. The town saved $375,000 in the 4.5 years of the contract with ABC Disposal Services over what it would have cost with Covanta.

Selectman Michael MacAskill asked Camara if the board could have another week to weigh the issues and examine an actual contract before making any decisions on the next step for the town. Camara agreed to that extension.

Selectmen also agreed to write a letter to Governor Charlie Baker and the legislative delegation relating to the MSW crisis facing communities.