Environmentalists and grassroots activists are pushing to tighten Maine laws in order to reduce or eliminate hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state waste going into the state’s largest landfill.

Maine nominally outlawed the dumping of trash generated in other states in 1989 by banning commercial landfills from operating. That allowed the state to manage the source of waste dumped at the landfills, but a loophole allows mountains of waste from elsewhere to still be disposed of in Maine.

Under the rules, Maine still accepts out-of-state waste for recycling. But the regulations say that if part of a shipment of waste is recycled in Maine, the rest of the shipment is reclassified as in-state waste and can be dumped at Maine’s state-owned landfill.

The loophole allows hundreds of thousands of tons of out-of-state waste to be disposed of in Maine, mostly at the Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town, the only landfill owned by the state that’s still operating. It is run by Casella Waste under a management contract.

The Natural Resources Council of Maine and others are pushing for changes in the rules to close the loophole, but it may need to wait until the Legislature convenes next year, said Sarah Nichols, sustainable Maine director at the organization.

“This issue is not going to go away, and it’s going to get worse,” Nichols said. “It seems like it’s more ripe than ever.”

Ed Spencer, who lives about 1.5 miles from the Juniper Ridge landfill, says Nichols’ choice of the word “ripe” is appropriate.

On days when his house is downwind from the landfill, a growing mountain of trash, “you can’t breathe,” Spencer said. “It’s impossible to go out.”

Spencer is one of nearly 300 Mainers who are petitioning the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to change the rules and eliminate out-of-state waste from going into the landfill.

Nichols said proponents of changes in the regulations had hoped to use petitions to force the Board of Environmental Protection, which oversees the DEP, to draft changes. But, she said, state rules no longer force regulators to respond directly to petitions, so any change will likely require the Legislature to act next year.

The Natural Resources Council and other advocates might simply draft a bill for lawmakers to consider, Nichols said, but she believes it’s an issue that needs to be dealt with soon. With other states tightening rules on what can be dumped in their landfills, particularly construction and demolition debris, more out-of-staters are likely to be looking for places to take the waste. If Maine’s rules remain the same, she said, the state will remain an attractive destination.

She said about 800,000 tons of waste was dumped at Juniper Ridge last year, and about 220,000 tons came from ReEnergy, a recycler in Lewiston. Nichols said ReEnergy’s figures suggest that 90 percent or more of its waste actually was generated outside of Maine.

That means about one-quarter of the rapidly growing mound of waste at Juniper Ridge likely comes from outside the state, Nichols said.

Much of that waste comes from Massachusetts, according to figures in ReEnergy’s 2019 annual report. It said the facility sent 176,700 tons of mixed construction debris to Juniper Ridge in 2019 that originally came from Massachusetts, and 37,044 tons from New Hampshire. Maine-sourced debris was far behind those two states, with less than 22,000 tons coming from in-state.

Massachusetts has banned the dumping of construction and demolition debris at landfills in that state, and in the search for places to dispose of the material, Maine has become a convenient destination, those backing the change in regulations say.

The numbers for out-of-state waste going to Juniper Ridge show how much the state’s ban on out-of-state waste has been weakened and abused, said Hilary Lister, the lead signer on the petition sent to the DEP.

She said the biggest concern over the material being dumped at Juniper Ridge is construction and demolition debris and, to a lesser extent, some medical waste. Lister said she thinks the DEP’s board should take action, rather than make those pushing for changes wait for the Legislature to act in 2021.

Spencer said he agrees and worries that Casella Waste’s lobbyists might succeed in watering down any changes to the regulations. He said the company has a strong incentive to continue accepting out-of-state waste to increase the fees it earns from operating the landfill.


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