The Clean Water Blog

60 organizations sign on to move Maryland from trash incineration to zero waste

In the first weeks of the legislative session, 60 organizations signed on to this testimony in support of a suite of bills to end artificial incentives the state of Maryland gives to trash incineration, and support the development of zero waste alternatives.

 

To the Maryland General Assembly and Governor Larry Hogan,

As organizations working for a stable climate, clean air and water, thriving local businesses, and healthy communities, we urge you to stop artificially propping up trash incineration and promote policies to divert waste from landfills and incineration to reduce pollution, sequester carbon, and create good, green jobs in Maryland in 2020.

For too long, trash incineration has enjoyed subsidies and benefits in Maryland that have made our state a target for the industry and complicit in polluting the air in our own communities. In 2011, trash incineration was declared a Tier 1 renewable energy resource, on par with wind and solar, and became eligible for millions of dollars in public subsidies. Around the same time, new trash incinerators were proposed to be built in Baltimore City, Frederick County, and Prince George’s County, threatening our communities with increased air and water pollution and financially burdensome contracts. Thankfully, people in these communities stood up to say no to trash incineration, and ultimately, none of those incinerators were built. Now, communities across Maryland are working for a zero waste future that is more beneficial to our environment and economy. It’s time for Maryland to stop subsidizing trash incineration and start supporting the local movements toward composting, regenerative agriculture, and waste reduction that we need to build our communities and fight climate change.

Trash incineration is bad for our communities, particularly in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, home to the state’s major trash incinerators. Air pollutants from waste incinerators increase the risk of pre-term births, cancers of the blood and lung, and emergency room visits. To produce the same amount of energy, these two incinerators emit higher levels of mercury, lead, nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2) than coal plants. According to a Chesapeake Bay Foundation commissioned study, fine particulate matter emitted from the Wheelabrator Baltimore “waste-to-energy facility” causes over $55 million in adverse health effects annually. By subsidizing trash incineration, Maryland subsidizes pollution in our neighborhoods.

Trash incineration also contributes more to climate change than even the dirtiest of energy sources, coal. In 2015, the Wheelabrator Baltimore incinerator emitted about twice as much greenhouses gases per amount of energy produced, on average, as each of the coal plants located in Maryland. The Dickerson trash incinerator in Montgomery County produces 500,000 tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Trash incinerators are not a part of the climate solution and are not low carbon methods for energy generation. For both our local communities and the climate, trash incineration is bad news.

Despite this, trash incineration remains artificially propped up by Maryland state policies, especially our Renewable Portfolio Standard. According to a Department of Legislative Services report, about 10% of Renewable Energy Credits in 2017 went to subsidize trash incinerators. If applied to constructing other Tier 1 renewable energy sources, these credits would support new, high-paying Maryland jobs, increase GDP during the construction of these facilities, and reduce Maryland’s carbon emissions. Maryland’s trash incinerators were built decades before they began receiving RPS subsidies in 2011: removing subsidies is not a bait and switch, but simply correcting a mistake that was made 9 years ago.

As they earn credits for producing “renewable” energy, these trash incinerators are also artificially improving recycling rates, as Maryland counties can credit the burning of trash and the use of the leftover toxic ash as recycling. This definition is another way that Maryland greenwashes trash incineration, and that needs to change.

It’s especially wrong for Maryland to prop up trash incineration, when the alternatives are so much better for our health, our climate, our economy, and our communities. Leaders across Maryland are already working to build a healthier zero-waste future:

  • Prince George’s County is home to the East Coast’s largest municipal composting facility, which recently began turning a profit and creating a revenue stream for the county.
  • With a pilot program to compost in 3 schools last year, Frederick County found that as much as 87% of the school’s trash could be diverted through composting, recycling, and diverting liquids - and this year, they’ve expanded that initiative to 14 schools. Harford County schools are diverting organic waste at 10 schools, a program that has been in place for five years.
  • A leading restaurant in Ocean City will begin diverting food waste in April 2020 to a local farm with hopes to expand operations city-wide.
  • Baltimore City is home to thriving community garden composting programs, food waste drop-offs at farmers’ markets, and start-up businesses diverting waste, developing compost, and designing refill programs and packaging for zero waste.
  • The Town of New Windsor in Carroll County piloted a Pay-as-You-Throw program last year that cut the volume of waste thrown away nearly in half.
  • Communities in Montgomery County and Howard County are piloting curbside compost pickup programs to divert household organic waste.

Composting Maryland’s organic waste could reduce our waste stream by half, and composting can actually turn a profit for municipalities, unlike incineration, landfilling, or even most forms of recycling. It provides a market for local business: we can responsibly dispose of our waste and generate a usable product on the other end. As an added benefit, compost sequesters carbon and rebuilds the microbiome when added to soils, providing resiliency benefits and reducing the need for fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides.

To support Maryland's transition away from trash incineration, we must require large food waste producers send their food waste to compost when possible, support farmers to create enough compost for on-farm use and use compost as a soil amendment, make funds available to help new composting businesses, and create a plan for siting compost facilities in places to promote local growth. Already, composting in Maryland “employs two times more workers than landfilling, and four times more workers than incineration. On a per-capital-investment basis, for every $10 million invested, composting facilities in Maryland support twice as many jobs as landfills and 17 more jobs than incinerators."With greater support, this sector could create even more jobs, building toward a healthy zero-waste economy in Maryland.

As we move into our next decade, now is the time to correct the mistakes of the last. We ask Maryland’s General Assembly to stop these harmful subsidies to trash incinerators and help us move to a future where our food waste is a tool for economic growth, carbon sequestration, rebuilding our depleted soils, and a healthier Maryland for us all.

 

Sincerely,

Clean Water Action

Blue Water Baltimore

Go Green Ocean City

Filbert Street Garden

Takoma Park Mobilization Environment Committee

Assateague Coastal Trust

Greenbelt Climate Action Network

CCAN Action Fund

Turner Station Conservation Teams, Inc.

Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church Environmental Justice Ministry

Smart Growth Maryland

Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland

Maryland Legislative Coalition

Maryland PIRG

Environment Maryland

Earth Forum of Howard County

AMNGLOBAL

Maryland Conservation Council

Sugarloaf Citizens Association

York Road Partnership

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church

Most Precious Blood Catholic Church

St Dominic Catholic Church

Baltimore Free Farm

Less Plastic Please

Baltimore Gift Economy

Interfaith Power & Light (DC.MD.NoVA)

Central Maryland Beekeepers Association

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Mountainside Education and Enrichment Inc

Maryland Sierra Club

The Fund for Change

The Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund

Be the Change

IndivisibleHoCoMD

Green Frederick

SANIPLAN

Flowering Tree Trails of Baltimore

Indivisible Baltimore

Mundea Group

Baltimore Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter Veterans For Peace

Montgomery County Food Council

Glen Echo Heights Mobilization

Montgomery Countryside Alliance

Food & Water Action

Women's Democratic Club of Montgomery County

DoTheMostGood MoCo

St. Matthew Catholic Church

Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church

Frederick Zero Waste Alliance

Indivisible Towson

Montgomery County Faith Alliance for Climate Solutions

Indivisible Catonsville

Maryland Episcopal and Environmental Partners (GREENGRACE)

Sunrise Movement Towson

Echotopia

Talbot Rising

Multifaith Alliance of Climate Stewards, Frederick County

Sunrise Howard County

Sunrise Movement Baltimore