Trash commission stalls over reporting date

Late-night standoff on goal of 450 pounds of trash per person

WITH TIME RUNNING OUT in the 2015-2016 session on Tuesday night, the Legislature failed to reach agreement on legislation to boost municipal recycling and reduce trash disposal to no more than 450 pounds per person per year.

The Senate at the end of June approved a sweeping measure mandating a steady reduction in municipal solid waste disposal, first to no more than 600 pounds per capita by July 1, 2018, and then to 450 pounds by July 1, 2022. The House countered on Tuesday with a measure creating a special commission to study how to reach the 450-pound goal, and the Senate somewhat reluctantly appeared to go along.

But the deal ultimately stalled over the reporting date for the commission. The House bill originally set a reporting date of Sept. 1, 2017, but that was changed via a House amendment to April 1, 2018. Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, the Senate’s point person on solid waste issues, initially said his branch had concurred with the House bill, meaning the legislation would pass. But the Senate subsequently insisted on the original 2017 deadline and the two branches ended in a standoff.

All of the action happened on the last day of the 2015-2016 legislative session. The session was also informal, meaning action is typically limited to noncontroversial measures. During informal sessions, the opposition of just one member can derail a bill.

Pacheco said he would have preferred passage of the original Senate bill, but noted concerns raised by the Massachusetts Municipal Association and other stakeholders made it more sensible to have a commission explore the best course of action on solid waste.

“This puts everyone around a table to work something out,” he said.

The commission would consist of 13 persons, including the state commissioners of environmental protection and revenue; two Senate members; two House members; and seven appointees of the governor, including one who is a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Nearly a quarter of the state’s cities and towns already dispose of less than 450 pounds of trash per year. But many of the remaining communities generate more than 600 pounds of trash per capita, including  Springfield (739 pounds), Lowell (736), Andover (784), Braintree (828), Lawrence (847), Needham (684), and New Bedford (603).

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Trash disposal is one of those issues that rarely gets much attention on Beacon Hill but is fast becoming a major statewide concern. The state cannot build more incinerators and landfills are closing or sharply upping their rates. Asked to rate the issue on a scale of 1 to 10, Pacheco gave it an 11 or 12. “It’s a significant issue, particularly for municipalities in terms of the cost,” he said.

Pacheco said it’s becoming very costly to bury, burn, or ship trash out of state. And he said the greenhouse gas emissions from existing landfills are a major concern. “It’s a triple whammy for these communities and the Commonwealth as a whole,” he said.