HARWICH — The lack of landfill space and other means of disposing of municipal solid waste in Massachusetts is having a major financial impact on communities. That was made perfectly clear Monday night when selectmen approved two one-year contracts with per-ton rate increases of nearly $20.
“Recycling markets have degenerated and we have more trash than we have outlets,” DPW Director Lincoln Hooper told selectmen Monday night.
Across the state, trash disposal sites are closing and there has been less capacity at aging incineration facilities while international recycling markets are drying up. The commonwealth has targeted increased recycling as the means for handling municipal solid waste, but recycling has not met expectations and global markets like China have placed stringent restrictions on recyclables, drastically reducing the export of those materials.
In the state Department of Environmental Protection’s pending 10-year solid waste plan, the commonwealth seeks to reduce the 5.7 million tons of solid waste generated 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.
But the immediate problem facing communities in Southeastern Massachusetts is the loss of disposal sites. It is estimated 300,000 tons of annual disposal capacity will be lost in 2020 and since 2014 it is estimated 1,743,400 tons of capacity have been lost state-wide. A number of waste haulers are now sending trash out of state by train for disposal, and there are additional concerns costs would escalate should those states cease operations.
Due to the declining disposal capacity, New Bedford Waste Services, which the town has had a contract with since 2015, is unable to honor a renewal of the current contract for an additional five years, which was scheduled to start on Jan. 1, 2020. That was the news Hooper delivered to selectmen this week.
“I have dragged my feet in presenting this recommendation to the board as I was hopeful that the town of Bourne would be able to assist us in some way, as they did over the summer. Unfortunately, Dan Barrett, general manager, was unable to offer a contract to Harwich, or anyone else for that matter, at the present time,” Hooper told the board.
Bourne is working on a major expansion of its landfill, however, and anticipates being in a position to offer more favorable long-term disposal options in a year or two. Hooper said the expansion could provide a waste disposal option going out 20 years.
Given that option, Hooper recommended entering into a one-year contract with New Bedford Waste Services and with Covanta Energy, which operates the waste to energy incinerator in Rochester. The NBWS contract will be charging $93.75 a ton and Covanta, which put forward a three-year offer, will charge $90 a ton, increasing to $94.50 the following year and $99.25 in the final year.
Asked by selectman Michael MacAskill, Hooper said the town is paying about $72 per ton with the NBWS contract. MacAskill also asked why the town does not enter into the three-year contract with Covanta.
Hooper said he believes the Bourne option would include better long-term numbers for the town in a year or two.
Interim Town Administrator Joseph Powers called Hooper’s proposal “an ingenious short-term step.”
Selectman Ed McManus said the solid waste crisis in the commonwealth was the topic of discussion at the Barnstable County Selectmen's and Councillors' Association meeting last Friday and he called Hooper’s presentation good news in comparison to what he heard from other towns, which face costs of $200 to $250 a ton.
Hooper pointed out Cape communities have been fortunate since 1988 when the SEMASS incinerator opened, when they were paying $12 a ton. Hooper said communities on the North Shore have been paying $100 a ton for a number of years.
Powers asked selectmen their opinion on the contracts. MacAskill made motions to approve the one-year contracts with Covanta and NBWS pending a review of the contracts.
Hooper also put forward a rate increase for commercial haulers using the town’s transfer station. He requested an increase from $100 a ton to $120. He pointed out that in Yarmouth, Covanta will be getting $110 a ton to utilize the train taking solid waste to the incinerator in Rochester. Hooper said commercial haulers prefer coming to the Harwich transfer station rather then going to Yarmouth.
Harwich closed the commercial portion of its solid waste disposal operation in September based on the lack of disposal site options, but he was optimistic they will be able to provide that service again.
MacAskill said the commercial haulers will pass that increase on to local residents. He wanted to know how much money they are spending at the transfer station versus what they are bringing in.
“We’re in a full cost recovery position,” Hooper responded.