TRANSPORTATION: Maryland Addresses Interstate Transport Issues

It's no secret that political activity has been brewing in Virginia and Pennsylvania about trash imports. Consequently, Maryland, which exports a large portion of its municipal solid waste (MSW) to those states, decided in 1998 to create a solid waste management task force to investigate solid waste issues and to make recommendations for a long-range state solid waste management policy.

Currently, all of Maryland's hazardous waste, low-level radioactive waste and some medical waste are being exported for disposal. The state projects it will export 2 million tons or 30 percent of its waste stream by 2000. Many Maryland subdivisions have closed their municipal landfills temporarily to take advantage of low-cost disposal options in neighboring Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In fact, only one privately owned landfill operates in the far northwest corner of the state. And, three Maryland waste-to-energy facilities are operating at capacity.

However, Maryland's low-cost options may not be available for long. In March, Virginia's legislature created landfill capacity limit laws, which, if upheld, will increase prices. At the same time, recent mergers in the industry have allowed the "big players" to raise prices.

Recognizing these problems, Gov. Parris N. Glendening commissioned the solid waste management task force to come up with a list of recommendations to address interstate waste transport issues.

Currently, very little MSW is being imported into Maryland. The state's main waste import is private construction and demolition (C&D) waste, or rubble. While data suggests that the amount is declining - 1.6 million tons of rubble was disposed of in privately owned landfills in 1997 down from 2 million tons in 1996 - five new C&D landfills are being planned to allow for future waste.

To help the state's 10-year solid waste management plan accommodate changing market and environmental conditions, and manage solid waste cost-effectively, the task force recommended Maryland:

* Strengthen county contingency plans to address disruptions caused by market changes, such as out-of-state price increases;

* Develop mechanisms to collect better data on the generation, collection, transportation and disposal of solid waste both within the state and between other states;

* Increase the Maryland Department of the Environment's (MDE) funding to provide more assistance in local jurisdictions, inspection, environmental protection and public education, as well as in developing markets for recyclables;

* Implement the Maryland Recycling Advisory Group's and the Market Development Task Force's recommendations, including the suggested recycling goal of 40 percent by 2005; and

* Ensure that controls are in place so that only appropriate wastes are disposed in solid waste facilities and that waste hauling vehicles comply with transportation regulations.

In addition, the task force addressed public concerns about landfill siting. When the task force was created in March 1998, citizens were concerned about the environment, as well as potential problems such as traffic, odor, noise and declining property values. Communities also had questions about facility siting in minority and low-income neighborhoods. And, the public expressed frustration with the limited opportunities for them to control where its waste goes and where those facilities are sited.

To combat this, the task force concluded that state and local jurisdictions needed to involve citizens in solid waste planning and siting by:

* Encouraging adaptation of local solid waste management plans;

* Developing a Model Zoning and Facilities Advisory Guide by Dec. 1, 1999 for local jurisdictions considering siting criteria, and reviewing and updating zoning laws;

* Improving the policies for notifying and disseminating information to the public to increase participation. This includes notifying property owners within 1,000 feet of a proposed solid waste facility;

* Educating communities about the opportunities for public-private partnerships and managed competition, and taking the potential advantages of privatization into account; and

* Integrating citizens into all phases of solid waste management by educating the public and encouraging counties to do the same.

So far, Maryland has implemented several of the task force's recommendations to improve the state's solid waste plan. For example, in response to concerns about safe MSW transport through the state, Maryland participated in a three-day multi-state "trash-net" operation where exhausted truck drivers and unsafe vehicles were pulled over.

Additionally, the Baltimore-based Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, whose members include the city of Baltimore and six surrounding counties, and the Maryland Environmental Service, Annapolis, have worked with local governments and private industries to provide innovative solid waste disposal systems.

While exporting trash may be a short-lived opportunity in Maryland, the state is looking ahead to increase recycling and provide for in-state solutions.