CommonWealth ran a cover story in January 2015 that featured a photo of a dump truck unloading trash at a massive landfill in New Bedford. The headline, drifting in the center of the page amid all the stinking refuse, was: “Seriously, is this the best we can do?”
Now, more than two years later, we’re probably doing worse. A landfill in Chicopee is closing down and the residents of Southbridge are trying to shut down the state’s largest landfill, which is located in their town. But the trash keeps coming. With fewer spots to bury our junk and a cap on the number of trash incinerators, we’re running out of options.
Stephen Lisauskas, a vice president at Waste Zero, a North Andover company that advises municipalities on ways to reduce their trash disposal costs, says cities and towns can fairly easily boost recycling and reduce trash generation. He worries that inertia on Beacon Hill and out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitudes toward trash among residents of the state are likely to discourage recycling and lead to a boost in expensive trash exports. Massachusetts and the rest of the states in the northeast already have the highest trash disposal costs in the country.
“Are we backing into a solution or proactively moving toward a solution?” he asks, rhetorically.
For Lisauskas, the solution is fairly simple. With most utilities, you pay more if you use more. Leave your lights on, the electric bill goes up. Water your yard, the water and sewer bill rises. But in most of the state’s communities, putting more trash out at the curb doesn’t cost you any more. Everyone gets charged the same, so there’s no financial incentive to recycle more and generate less trash.
Only 140 Massachusetts communities charge their residents a metered rate for trash, usually with a per-bag fee. Lisauskas says these communities tend to generate a lot less waste and spend a lot less on trash disposal. The rest of the state’s municipalities, including Boston, encourage their residents to recycle but give them little financial incentive to do so.
A true trash geek, Lisauskas also raised alarms about what’s called single source recycling — using one container for all recyclable materials. Single source was adopted by many communities to make it easier for residents to recycle; skip the sorting of bottles, paper, etc. and people will recycle more. But that convenience is coming at a cost. Lisauskas says the mixing of materials is contaminating the end product — glass mixed in with paper, plastic mixed with glass. He says a city or town can sell uncontaminated glass for $20 a ton, but a municipality has to pay a carrier $20 a ton to dispose of a ton of contaminated glass. “Single stream has changed the value of materials,” he says.
Some communities are starting to move away from single-stream, requiring residents to do more work. Belmont addresses the problem by having its residents dispose of paper and cardboard one week and bottles and cans the next, Lisauskas says. My favorite Lisauskas trash tale: garbage trucks in Singapore play loud music as they work their way down the street, much like ice cream trucks in this country. Once they hear the music, residents in Singapore are required to go outside and hand-deliver their trash to the truck.
Lisauskas also says the type of trash being generated is changing — more packaging (think Amazon) and less paper and newsprint (thank the web). One example resonated with me. He notes cucumbers now often come wrapped in plastic, which allows them to last longer before they spoil but means they come with a piece of throw-away trash attached. It all adds up.
House Ways and Means chairman Brian Dempsey, who had been the presumed heir to the speaker’s post, says he’s quitting the Legislature for a top job at lobbying firm ML Strategies. (CommonWealth) Howie Carr says after voting themselves huge pay raises, top legislative leaders, starting with Speaker Robert DeLeo, are in no hurry to leave. (Boston Herald) Haverhill is losing a strong advocate who brought millions of dollars to the community. (Eagle-Tribune) Dempsey’s Haverhill seat is expected to attract a lot of candidates. (Eagle-Tribune)
A Lowell Sun editorial says the sanctuary state legislation is a dangerous solution in search of a problem.
No news from the top-secret pot talks on Beacon Hill, but it turns out lawmakers in Maine have been able to tackle possible revisions to the state’s marijuana legalization law through more than two dozen open hearings. (Boston Globe)
An audit has turned up more examples of Barnstable County renting out property at unusually low rates. One prime example: Cape Cod Organic Farm is renting 100 acres of county land to grow food and paying no rent. (Cape Cod Times)
A group of Boston teenagers has discovered a 24-year-old agreement by TD Garden to hold three fundraisers a year to benefit city recreation programs — something the arena owners have never done. (Boston Globe)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh unveils a citywide blueprint for addressing racism. His election opponent, Tito Jackson, calls it “yet another report filled with empty promises.” (Boston Globe)
The Braintree Board of Health voted unanimously to revoke the license of a Motel 6 outlet that has been the scene of frequent problems, including the shooting in May of a police officer. (Patriot Ledger)
Senate Republican leaders roll out a new health care bill, but it’s unclear whether they can get the 50 votes needed to pass it. (New York Times) A Herald editorial calls it a search for “a health care unicorn.”
Kevin Cullen tells the heart-wrenching tale of Francisco Rodriguez, a hard-working MIT janitor who fled gang violence in El Salvador, who was taken into federal custody yesterday to be deported back to his native country, a move that separates him from his family here, including his pregnant wife and two children. (Boston Globe)
In an international affairs version of his recent declaration that health care turns out to be very complicated, President Trump remarks during his visit to France that many people don’t know that the country is America’s first and oldest ally. (Boston Globe) He also stirs controversy by complimenting Brigitte Macron, France’s first lady, for being in such good shape. (Fortune)
A federal judge in Hawaii weakens the Trump travel ban, expanding the list of relationships that visa applicants can use to gain entry. (Associated Press)
Globe columnist Tom Farragher gets clubby with Maine Gov. Paul LePage.
Standard and Poor’s downgrades the debt of Hartford to junk bond status. (Governing)
Sen Elizabeth Warren is using the talk of a Republican Senate run in Michigan by Kid Rock to help raise money for her Michigan colleague, Debbie Stabenow — and for herself. (Boston Herald)
DraftKings and FanDuel nix plans to merge. (WBUR)
Edward Cooper of Total Wine & More says Frank Anzalotti of the Massachusetts Package Store Association has it all wrong. (CommonWealth)
The finance director of the state-run Southbridge schools resigns after only one year on the job. (Telegram & Gazette)
The CEO of Tufts Medical Center says he’s not backing down in the standoff with striking nurses. (Boston Globe)
Eleven men who were civilly committed to state custody to treat severe drug addiction problems are suing the state, alleging they have not gotten help but have instead been subject to abuse and cruel treatment. (Boston Globe)
Lahey Health, the Beth Israel Deaconess system, New England Baptist Hospital, Mount Auburn Hospital, and Anna Jaques Hospital sign a definitive agreement to create a new regional health system in eastern Massachusetts. (Salem News)
Berkshire Medical Center asks its nurses to stay on the job. (Berkshire Eagle)
A Globe editorial praises the conviction of a former MBTA police officer on assault charges as a welcome, but too rare, example of police being held accountable for misconduct.
New Hampshire officials have launched a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct by staff at St. Paul’s School in Concord. (Boston Globe)
Authorities find human remains at a Dartmouth property where a fugitive who has been on the lam for nearly 40 years once lived. (Herald News)
Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy writes about a film documentary examining the flaws in the way the media covers presidential campaigns. (WGBH)