Where is All the Construction and Demolition Debris Going to GO?

Maine bans Mass. trash at regional landfill

April 27, 2022

BOSTON — Massachusetts waste haulers are looking for new locations to dispose of construction trash and debris following a move by Maine to ban out-of-state waste at one of the region’s largest landfills.

A proposal signed by Maine Gov. Janet Mills prohibits the importation of out-of-state trash and construction debris and sets new requirements for the expansion and licensing of state-owned landfills.

Maine law restricts out-of-state waste, but a loophole in state law allows outside trash to be reclassified as Maine refuse if it is initially processed at a Lebanon recycling facility before heading to the sprawling Juniper Ridge landfill in Alton, located about 60 miles from Bar Harbor.

The state-owned facility, which processes about 500,000 tons of waste a year, gets a majority of it from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and other states.

Maine lawmakers who pushed the measure through said regional landfill operations devalue surrounding properties, impede economic development, and bring odor, noise and pollution. They said the regional landfill was never meant to accept waste from surrounding states.

But waste hauling companies, which opposed the move, say the ban will cost jobs and lead to the closing of waste processing facilities in Maine. They point out that solid waste is a regional industry, and say restrictions on cross-border disposal of construction trash and debris will drive up costs for businesses and consumers.

“When you start banning construction and demolition waste you make it more expensive, because it has to travel farther,” said Joe Fusco, vice president of Casella Waste Management, which operates the Juniper Ridge facility. “When there is a constraint in disposal options, the price goes up.”

He said the most immediate impact of Maine’s new restrictions would be that Massachusetts haulers who use the Juniper Ridge landfill will need to find somewhere else to dispose of it, which will drive up disposal costs.

Massachusetts banned disposal of most construction and demolition debris more than a decade ago, forcing contractors to look to neighboring states to get rid of waste from building renovations and other projects.

In 2019, Massachusetts exported nearly 2 million tons of the 5.5 million tons of trash it produced that year to other states, according to the latest data from the state Department of Environmental Protection. The amount of exported trash has risen every year since 2012, the data shows.

But states such as Maine that are on the receiving end of the refuse are complaining about the amount of waste coming from Massachusetts and other states, which officials say are stretching already limited capacity at their landfills.

In New Hampshire, officials are also looking to tighten the laws to restrict out-of-state trash amid warnings that the state will run out of landfill capacity.

Environmental groups say the answer to diminishing landfill access is diverting trash and construction debris and have been pressuring states to aggressively expand recycling and reuse programs.

To be sure, the amount of trash going into Massachusetts landfills is expected to decrease even further under the state’s new 10-year solid waste reduction plan.

The plan calls for cutting the amount of solid waste going into landfills by 570,000 tons a year by 2050 and bans the disposal of mattresses and textile products.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environment Protection said the agency “shares the same goals” of Maine and other states to reduce solid waste and has been working to divert more construction and demolition materials into the recycling stream before it is shipped out of state for disposal.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.