Political strategies

NH’s long-awaited waste disposal plan criticized for lacking clear strategies

LEBANON — A new statewide solid waste management plan, which hopes to encourage more sustainable management, has been drafted after nearly two decades of delay at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

New Hampshire aims to reduce disposal of municipal solid waste, as well as construction and demolition debris, by 25% in 2030 and 45% by 2050. The plan — which was last updated in 2003 — is to be addressed over 10 years and hopes to help the state meet its reduction goals by limiting waste at source, as well as increasing waste diversion.

“We’re basically setting a framework for the next 10 years to guide our work: promoting recycling, more composting, things in the vein of sustainable waste management, not promoting landfills,” said DES supervisor Michael Nork. materials management.

But the project has drawn widespread criticism from many in the waste management industry as well as conservation advocates. The 18-page draft prompted a little less 400 pages of public comments.

Many people don’t see the plan as providing practical strategies for how the state will solve its waste problem.

Despite being “the least preferred method,” landfills “represent a significant portion of New Hampshire’s overall waste management capacity,” the project says. Public landfills have limited service areas and are not obligated to take waste out of their jurisdiction. But that’s not the case with commercial landfills, which make up half of New Hampshire’s landfill inventory. These private facilities can receive waste (and cost effective disposal fees) from anywhere.

More aggressive management in other New England states, such as massachusetts trash ban – which banned the disposal of items like metal containers and garden leaves – and Vermont Universal Recycling Lawpushes waste that cannot be disposed of back to its point of origin in New Hampshire.

In 2020, 47% of waste disposed in New Hampshire was generated out of state.

“Waste is commerce,” said Marc Morgan, solid waste manager for the city of Lebanon. “There is an easier flow to New Hampshire because we don’t have any laws to restrict it.”

Morgan is also a member of the Solid Waste Working Group, created to assist DES with planning and policy initiatives. Demanding more direction from the draft plan, and faced with the “continued lack of direction” from the NHDES, Morgan submitted his own public comment.

The draft does not include enough concrete language or concrete steps for municipal waste managers to meet state goals, leaving cities and towns to figure out strategies on their own without state resources, a Morgan said.

Additionally, since New Hampshire has no state recycling infrastructure and instead relies on the private sector, cities like Lebanon also take on the recycling burden on their own.

“The draft doesn’t even discuss how we’re going to encourage more recycling activity in the state,” Morgan said.

The plan was supposed to be updated more than a decade ago according to deadlines set by the Legislative Assembly, but the trash kept being thrown down the road.

DES officials attribute the vague wording to narrow jurisdiction and blame the delay on a lack of resources. DES’s Waste Division does not have its own funding mechanism and therefore must draw from the state’s general fund, leaving waste management efforts generally cash-strapped.

Morgan helped draft the 2003 draft when he worked for the state as a recycling coordinator. Now that post doesn’t even exist anymore. The planning branch of DES was eliminated in a series of budget cuts and was not reinstated with two members until after 2019. This leaves New Hampshire to catch up with other states in the region, which profit from its elimination restrictions lax in the meantime. .

“We’ve had over 15 years without planning in New Hampshire, and this is where we are now,” Morgan said. “What will happen in the future is what is already happening now: waste is becoming more and more expensive to dispose of, because at the regional level there are fewer places to put it. So what is available for disposal in terms of bagging trash becomes more and more valuable. Eventually it’s going to come home to roost and we’re really going to be thinking “Where are we going to put this?” ”

State Rep. Karen Ebel, Democrat of New London, chairs the solid waste task force. While Ebel thinks the draft plan needs more concrete language, she hopes the pressure of public comment will force changes.

“I’m glad we finally have a long-term plan that incorporates many aspects of the solid waste issue,” Ebel said. “Now we have things we can sink our teeth into.”

But once a finalized plan is released, implementation does not end with DES.

“The legislature is going to play a very important role in this, and we are going to have to have the political will to put in place stricter laws as to what can be landfilled and what recycling requirements will be put in place,” Ebel said.

“You can plan and plan, but it takes people to do the work.”

A final version of the draft will be presented to the Legislative Assembly on October 1st.

Frances Mize is a member of the Report for America corps. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.