In 1989, lawmakers set a goal in state law that the state would recycle 50 percent of its municipal solid waste by 2009. Maine didn’t make the deadline, and in 2012, lawmakers opted for a little more breathing room, making Jan. 1, 2014, the date when the state would reach the 50 percent threshold.
Maine residents today are producing less trash, but the state still hasn’t gotten to its 50 percent recycling target. In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, Maine’s towns and cities recycled 42.38 percent of their solid waste, according to a Maine Department of Environmental Protection report prepared earlier this year.
Through the 1990s and 2000s, Maine made virtually no progress in boosting its recycling rate. It peaked in 1997 at 42 percent before dropping to a low of 34.8 percent in 2007. It’s encouraging that Maine’s recycling rate has at least returned to 1997 levels, but the state still has a long way to go.
The progress Maine has yet to make is, perhaps, the best lens through which to view the Maine DEP’s recent rejection of a municipal group’s bid to build its own landfill in Argyle Township or Greenbush.
The goal for a 50 percent recycling rate outlined in state law is just that, a goal. And the solid waste management hierarchy outlined in statute — which makes it state policy to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost as much waste as possible before incinerating and landfilling it — is just a policy statement. The DEP’s ability to say no to a request for a new landfill is the department’s rare enforcement mechanism for those laws.