The State of Solid Waste in Maine 2004
Solid Waste: The Issue in Context
management of municipal solid waste (MSW) is an important global and local
environmental issue. Solid waste is defined by the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) as “waste generated in households, commercial establishments,
institutions and businesses. MSW includes used paper, discarded cans and bottles,
food scraps, yard trimmings and other items. Industrial process wastes, agricultural
wastes, mining wastes and sewage sludge are not MSW1.” If disposed
of improperly, MSW has several negative effects on humans and the environment
including contamination of water and soil, which can cause poor sanitation and
the spread of disease2. Additionally, improper disposal can attract
rodents, fleas, birds, and other pests, along with creating potentially
dangerous airborne pathogens3.
In the US alone, approximately 231.9 million
tons of MSW was generated in 2000. Of this amount, 162 million tons was disposed
of in landfills or sent to incinerators. The total quantity of materials
recovered for recycling or composting was approximately 70 million tons, which
comprises 30.2 percent4. The US is the largest producer of MSW in
the world. People in the US are currently responsible for
producing on average 4.62 pounds of waste each day. This is almost one pound
more than the second largest producer, Canada, which produces 3.75 pounds per
capita per day. Sweden and Germany are much more efficient
industrialized nations, producing under 2 pounds of
MSW per person each day, a quantity that is less than half as great as that
generated in the US5.
countries are responsible for producing the majority of the world’s MSW, yet
developing nations often suffer more from the adverse effects of waste due to
lack of proper disposal methods. The options for management of solid waste in
developing nations are limited. This is largely due to factors such as high
population densities and rapid population growth rates along with limited
financial and human resources. Population pressures on developing communities
have caused inadequate waste disposal to create unhygienic conditions2.
MSW is often placed in a landfill when recycling or
incinerators are not viable options for waste management. Landfills are chosen
due to lack of development or simply because a type or quantity of waste
produced cannot be recycled or incinerated. Landfills have the potential to
contaminate air, surface water, sediment, soil and groundwater6. The
ash produced from waste incinerators is disposed of in landfills, and has the
potential to be swept into the air by wind. Ash that becomes airborne has the
potential to contaminate fragile ecosystems and freshwater systems7.
Health problems that arise from breathing ash polluted air, drinking
contaminated water, or being exposed to hazardous waste affect human
populations as well. In addition to the health concerns that arise with solid
waste disposal, people are also affected by the aesthetics of waste. Most
people would appreciate solid waste that is disposed of in a safe and
The amount of MSW produced continues
to increase. The EPA estimates that in the US in 2001, 4.4lbs of waste was
generated per person per day, as compared to only 2.7lbs in 19605.
This 61 percent increase has caused the demand for dealing with solid waste to
increase as well. More innovative methods have been developed to meet the
growing need for MSW disposal. The importance of eco-friendly disposal methods,
such as recycling, have less impact on the environment than landfills, and have
been critical to protecting humans and the environment as the amount of waste
generated continues to grow.
initiated by Non Government Organizations and other regimes have confronted the
issue of waste in some areas of the world by developing management strategies
and implementation assistance. For example, in developing countries such as Bangladesh and India, local people have undergone hands-on training in waste separation,
collection, composting, marketing of recyclable material and compost with the
aid of NGOs 8. In addition, multilateral environmental
agreements have been designed specifically to address the issue of solid waste.
Examples of agreements include the three conventions, Basel, Rotterdam, and Stockholm, developed under the United Nations
Environmental Program. They address hazardous waste disposal and persistent
In addition, Agenda 21, created at the World Summit on
Sustainable Development in 1992, concentrates on the effects of waste on other
environmental issues. Agenda 21 outlines strategies for changing consumption
patterns and protecting and promoting human health conditions with
environmentally sound management of toxic chemicals and the protection of the
quality of freshwater sources. A hierarchy of objectives was developed within
Chapter 21 of Agenda 21 that includes waste minimization, maximizing
environmentally sound waste reuse and recycling, promoting environmentally
sound waste disposal and treatment, and extending waste service coverage8,9.
associations and initiatives exist to globally address the issue of waste. The
International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) is a Copenhagen-based association
designed to promote and develop sustainable waste management worldwide. There
are thirty-four member countries that focus primarily on supporting developing
nations in implementing eco-efficient and sustainable waste management systems.
An International Waste Treaty does not currently exist, yet the ISWA is in the
process of creating one10.
Domestically, solid waste is managed
at federal, state and community levels. At the federal level, the most
important regulation is the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of
1976 and its 1984 and 1986 amendments. The act is designed to improve the
management of solid waste in the US. Reasons for government response
have been both the human health implications of neglecting solid waste, as well
as the environmental benefits from regulation. RCRA enables the EPA to control
the generation, transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous
waste, while also creating a framework for the management of non-hazardous
Municipal Solid Waste: The Issue in Maine
The issue of MSW affects the state’s
diverse environment, as well as the approximately 1.4 million people that live
in Maine11. Fortunately, the state of Maine has an organized and advanced
system that is prepared to deal with the waste generated by its residents.
Despite these advances, there remain human health and environmental concerns
related to MSW that must be addressed by the state.
The policy of the EPA toward MSW is
an integrated management plan that has been adopted by the Maine Department of
Environmental Protection (DEP). Three major components define the plan’s focus.
Broadly, these include source reduction, recycling, and disposal. By tackling
the first of these three points, the problem can be confronted at the root of
the issue, which therefore makes source reduction the most important focus of
the EPA and DEP in managing solid waste12.
Legislation and Law
The EPA has certain MSW regulations that set minimum
national standards in management. More stringent regulations are left up to
states. In Maine, policies have been developed on
both the state and local levels. Many state policies require greater action to
decrease MSW levels than those developed by the federal government. These
include state reduction planning, residential program development, commercial
program development, and support from the state government to implement these
programs13. Furthermore, communities have developed their own
approach to solid waste management that is often completely separate from
federal or state regulation. Different approaches to programs such as recycling,
sewage treatment and community education programs are often dependent on a
state’s or community’s interest in being environmentally friendly and
encouraging sustainable behaviors.
The state has made goals to reduce the amount of solid waste
produced in Maine. These goals include specific dates
that certain rates of recycling are to be achieved by. Maine municipalities agreed upon a 50
percent recycling goal in 1989. Since then, the agreement has been amended
twice to allow for more time to reach this goal. According to the Maine State
Planning Office, the state achieved a 40.4 percent statewide recycling rate in
1999, yet had not met the original goal of 50 percent. Currently, it is the
state’s intent to decrease solid waste tonnage by 5 percent every two years
until this goal is attained. There are no penalties associated with failure to
Maine has addressed hazardous waste in
addition to municipal waste. A plan was outlined to significantly reduce the
amount of hazardous waste produced. The goals for minimizing the amount of
hazardous waste generated statewide are a 40 percent reduction by January l,
2002, a 50 percent reduction by January 1, 2004 and a 60 percent reduction by
January 1, 200615. We are not currently meeting these goals.
MSW is dealt with mostly at the
community level in Maine. Funding and organizational
assistance is given by the state, and basic regulation is mandated by the
state's Planning Office through the Waste Management & Recycling Program.
However, particular approaches to dealing with MSW depend upon the community.
It is required by the state that towns annually report their waste and
recycling data for monitoring purposes.
Along with larger plans designed to tackle problems such as
hazardous waste disposal and large-scale MSW management plans, smaller programs
are in effect. An Executive Order created in 1992 addressed the problem of
waste in state agencies. An Inter-Agency Waste Reduction and Recycling Task
Force was developed to mandate policies such as
promoting employee environmental education16. Another program
instigated by the state of Maine is the Reusable Bag Campaign,
developed in 1994. This is a voluntary program that encourages the use of
reusable bags. The slogan “Bring Your Own Bag” was developed and marketed to
businesses for a small cost ($5) to encourage customers to reuse bags,
therefore saving the business money. In 1995 alone, Maine contributed approximately $7,000 to
develop this plan17.
Maine is one of ten states to participate
in the bottle bill initiative, a plan designed to increase recycling rates of
glass and plastic beverage bottles. Beverage distributors are required to use a
refund system for their containers as an incentive for consumers to recycle.
Consumers pay an additional 5, 10, or 15 cents upon purchase. This monetary
amount is then refunded to the consumer when the empty bottle is returned to a
recycling station. Most supermarkets have stations designed exclusively to
accept bottles and provide refunds for consumers. An EPA study shows that more
containers are recycled in the ten participating bottle bill states than the
other forty US states combined18.
Another approach in Maine that uses market-based incentives
is the Pay-As-You-Throw plan, which is widely used. With this system,
businesses and residents pay for their waste based on the amount that they
produce. Costs for trash differ depending on town, but in most cases, recycling
is free of charge. This system not only encourages recycling of materials, but
also discourages unnecessary consumption. As of April 2002, more than one
hundred communities are participating in this program19. Although
rates per volume of waste are variable among communities the outcome is
generally the same: less MSW is generated.
Major contributors to MSW are food scraps and
yard waste. To address this issue, the Maine Waste Management Agency created a
Master Composter program that was developed to deal
specifically with these two types of waste. In conjunction with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, educational programs were created
to teach communities about composting food scraps and yard trimmings. The
program is designed to increase community involvement in composting in order to
decrease the total amount of MSW generated in the state20.
Maine is also active in supporting local
governments, which makes possible many of the local programs that have been
implemented. There are many ways the state assists different regions in dealing
with MSW. One way this is accomplished is by providing grants and loans. With
this money, local governments are able to offer yard waste programs such as
pick up services and purchasing backyard composting bins for residents21.
Indicators, Policy, and Analysis
current state of solid waste in Maine can be examined by specifically
evaluating the consumption, disposal, and management of MSW throughout the
state. There are many types of waste managed in Maine, however MSW is the largest
contributor to the waste stream today22. In this analysis I review
the trends provided by several environmental indicators. Additionally,
representative indicators allow evaluation of current management practices. The
future of MSW in the state of Maine depends heavily on proper planning
Disposed waste is more feasible to
measure than materials consumed, therefore this report focuses most heavily on
the quantity of waste generated. Each municipality in Maine is responsible for reporting the
amount of waste processed each year to the Waste Management and Recycling
Program of the Maine State Planning Office in Augusta23. The result
is an annual compilation of data representing the quantity of MSW, processed by
the Planning Office, of each waste management facility. Management decisions
that affect particular regions can then be based upon regional data, while
decisions that affect the entire state can be based upon assessments of the
data in aggregate.
Waste is categorized within the
reports into specific types (i.e., recycled glass, yard waste, etc.).
Indicators that demonstrate which sub categories of waste are increasing or
decreasing in quantity allow for more applicable management methods.
Specifically, the major indicators of importance in monitoring types of MSW
include: annual quantity of non-recycled waste generated, and annual quantity
of recycled waste generated.
Method of disposal is another
important aspect in understanding the state of MSW in Maine. There are several ways in which
non-recycled and recycled materials are dealt with. In Maine and nationwide, the three major
disposal methods include incineration, landfill, and recycling23.
Very different implications result from each of the various methods. Data
confirm the quantity of waste that fall into each category annually in Maine.
Another factor that must be considered is the MSW that is
transported across our state boundary. Although this number composes a
relatively small proportion of the state’s total MSW, changes in the amount of
waste imported and exported are important. For example, trends that demonstrate
an increase in imported waste would be important to consider when determining
the reason for greater quantities of MSW in Maine. Additional recycling efforts aimed
at the population living within Maine would not have an influence upon
Recycled materials are broken into more specific
subcategories of paper, plastic and glass. By identifying specific recyclables
that have lower recycling rates than others, these materials can be better
targeted for improved management. Environmental education programs, increased
availability of recycling stations, and the implementation of economic
incentives for recycling are all efforts Maine has taken to improve recycling
Maine ranks among the top 20 percent of
states in the US based on the percent of total MSW
recycled, yet the state is still striving to reach even higher levels24.
The 50 percent recycling rate set by The Waste Management and Recycling Program
of the State of Maine has not yet been reached, but
ongoing efforts are designed to help reach the state meet this goal. Maine is one of the pioneer states in
attempting to reach such high levels of recycling participation.
Waste Management Method
There are a total of eight municipally operated landfills
that accept MSW. Additionally, there are currently four incinerators that
accept MSW in Maine25.
Maine manages most of its waste through
recycling, landfill, or incineration. A fourth method that accounts for only
4.2 percent of MSW disposal is exportation. As displayed in Figure 2, in 2001,
recycling accounted for 37.3 percent of MSW, incineration for 35.1 percent, and
landfilled materials for 23.4 percent of MSW in Maine26.
Figure 2 shows the percent of MSW imported into Maine annually. Landfills and
incineration facilities in Maine received nearly 219,000 tons of MSW
from out-of-state in 2001. This is a 30 percent increase from the quantity of
MSW imported two years previously in 1999.
In comparison, the quantity of MSW exported in 2001 was a significantly
smaller number of 78,000 tons26.
The quantity of MSW
imported and exported annually in Maine is represented in Figure 3. The
amount of waste imported is increasing, while the amount exported is
decreasing. Imported waste increased from approximately 153,000 tons to 219,000
tons, while exported waste decreased from approximately 89,000 tons to 78,000
tons26. This is one factor driving up the total quantity of MSW
disposed of annually in Maine. If this trend continues along the
same trajectory in the future, Maine will be responsible for managing
greater quantities of out-of-state waste.
Indicator 2: Amount of MSW Generated in Maine
The quantity of MSW disposed of in Maine is steadily increasing over time.
As shown in Figure 4, disposed waste has increased from 782,556 tons in 1995 to
1,156,244 tons in 2001. This is a 32 percent increase. The quantity of waste
recycled has increased as well, but at a slower rate. The gap between quantity
of waste disposed and quantity of waste recycled is widening as more waste is
sent to incinerators and landfills across the state26.
From 1993 to 1997, the amount of waste recycled in Maine increased 258,513 tons, or 38
percent. During this period, there was a steady increase from 421,365 tons to
679,878 tons of waste recycled in Maine annually. Then, in 1997, the
quantity began to plateau, increasing only about 8,000 tons, or 1.2 percent,
over the next four year period. The quantity of MSW recycled in Maine remains at a stable level26.
3: Categories of Recyclables
Three major recycling categories include paper, plastic and
glass. Each of these materials can be made into new products, therefore using
less energy to produce brand new materials. Access to recycling programs,
applied economic incentives, and community environmental education programs are
ways in which the state of Maine encourages citizens to recycle MSW.
Each of these tactics has experienced varying degrees of participation.
Overall, those communities that offer at least one of these strategies have a
better rate of recycling than communities that do not.
The number of communities with access to recycling has
increased over the past decade, which may explain the increased rate of
participation. In 2001, 40 percent of Maine’s population had access to curbside
recycling programs through either municipal employees or municipally-contracted
services. In addition to curbside pick up, many Maine communities have drop off sites
that accept materials from wood to cardboard26.
Paper composes the majority of materials recycled, a
quantity that increases annually. Figure 5 displays the trend in paper
recycling from 1993 to 2001. This steady increase over time is similar to the
trend displayed by total recycling rates. Also comparable to the total is the
steeper increase prior to 1997, followed by a leveling off. Despite less annually growth in the past 7
years, the quantity of paper recycled is still slowly increasing26.
Figure 6 suggests that glass recycling is decreasing, which is opposite from the increase observed with paper in Figure
5. In 1993, the state recycled 5,500 tons of glass, yet by 2001 this number had
decreased to about 3,500 tons. This could be due to less packaging with glass,
and therefore less glass being consumed and disposed of26.
The total quantity of plastics recycled neither
increased or decreased strongly from 1993 to 2001. However, Figure 7
shows an overall increase in the quantity of glass recycled. The increase is
occurring at a relatively slow rate compared to papers.
Economic incentives such as the Pay-As-You-Throw system have
become more widespread in recent years. Citizens in 129 communities, which is 23 percent of Maine’s population, have a Pay-As-You-Throw
trash disposal system. Residents are required to pay for the amount of waste
they produce, which provides incentive to produce less waste. A survey conducted by the Maine State
Planning Office reported that recycling rates doubled and total amount of solid
waste generated decreased substantially in many Maine towns such as Belfast,
Kennebunkport, Holden, Durham, and Unity that implemented the Pat-As-You-Throw
Problems did arise, however, with
the implementation of the Pay-As-You-Throw system. There was a slight increase
in illegal dumping, due to the increase in cost of disposing of waste properly.
Additionally, 9 of the participating towns reported overstuffing of bags to be
a problem with the system. Instead of filling bags to a natural capacity,
residents have an incentive to place as much waste as possible in a bag to
decrease personal costs.
The bottle bill is another economic incentive designed to
increase bottle recycling. A refundable deposit included within the price of a
beverage is returned to the consumer when the empty container is returned at a
collection facility. In Maine, there have been several positive
effects of the bottle bill. The environment has benefited due to a decreased
amount of litter. Beverage container litter was reduced by 69 percent to 77
percent when the bottle bill initiative was enacted in 1979. The Maine
Department of Transportation estimated that some parks had reduced beverage container
litter by as much as 90 percent due to the bottle bill23.
Indicator 4: Landfill Capacity
remaining disposal capacity in landfills is decreasing. As shown in Figure 8,
the remaining life expectancy depends on the landfill, yet cumulatively, the
average time remaining in landfills in Maine is 16.25 years. This means that based upon current rates of MSW
disposal, Maine’s current landfills will reach capacity in the year 202023.
1: Remaining capacity in cubic yards and estimated number of years in Maine’s eight MSW landfills23
Remaining Capacity Cubic Yards
landfills have already undergone expansions to accommodate additional waste.
Expansions will occur in the future to landfills that can structurally support
modification. It will also be necessary in the future to create new landfill
space. To prevent the need for several additional landfills, it is important to
minimize the amount of waste for landfills as much as possible through efforts
such as recycling.
According to the Waste Management and Recycling Program in Maine, “The state has a fairly consistent
solid waste management program, steadied upon two commercial landfills, eight
municipal landfills, four incinerators, and strong public and private recycling
efforts.” Although Maine is one of the leading states in
addressing the issue of MSW, there are many improvements that could be made23.
While it is often more simple from a
management standpoint to address waste once it is generated, policies that
focus on reducing consumption would have a dramatic impact on the recyclable
and non-recyclable waste generated. Environmentally friendly packaging and
encouraging the reuse of products in their original form would cut down on the
amount of new MSW entering the waste stream. Encouraging overall consumption
reduction is another way in which policy makers could address the issue.
Approaching management exclusively from the disposal of MSW limits options for
reduction in waste quantity. Recycling alone is not enough; Maine must address waste from the
production aspect as well.
Financial support must be given by
the state to fund the local projects and initiatives necessary to reduce
disposed MSW. Without financial backing, programs such as community education
or the development of additional recycling facilities would be impossible. To
achieve the state goal of increased recycling, improvements must be made to the
current system such as the implementation of Pay-As-You-Throw initiatives in
more Maine towns, or the addition of more recycling facilities for
easier access. Each of these requires ongoing management and funding.
Overall, the state of municipal
solid waste disposal is relatively good in Maine. The issue is addressed by the
state as important enough to receive funding and attention from the Maine government. There are no major
problems with the system as it exists today. However, if MSW continues to be
generated at the current rate, problems with disposal will arise in the near
future as landfills reach capacity and the state is faced with the need to
dispose of waste by alternate means.
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