It’s not easy dealing with all the waste we produce – and it’s not getting any easier. Maine certainly shouldn’t be importing it.

Juniper Ridge landfill in Old Town is responsible for 1.3 million gallons of leachate that goes into the Penobscot River each month, according to Sunlight Media Collective, a grassroots media collective made up of Indigenous people and affiliated journalists that has made a documentary on the issue. Sunlight Media Collective/Chek Wingo

But that’s what’s happening, because of a loophole in a decades-old state law meant to bar out-of-state waste from crossing over into Maine.

Regulators should close that loophole so that the law does what it is supposed to, and so that Maine taxpayers get the deal they thought they were getting when they bought a landfill 30 years ago.

That landfill is Juniper Ridge in Old Town, which was purchased by the state following a 1989 law banning commercial landfills. The law gave the state control over what trash entered Maine, allowing it to keep out-of-state waste from crossing the border.

But companies in Maine could still accept out-of-state waste for recycling. And under the law, if any part of a shipment of waste is recycled, then the rest can be dumped at the state-owned landfill.

In recent years, states have cracked down on the burying of construction debris in landfills. As a result, Maine’s neighboring states, particularly Massachusetts, which banned construction debris in landfills, increasingly have been sending their waste north.

According to state records and the Natural Resources Council of Maine, ReEnergy, a recycling company in Lewiston, accepted more than 235,000 tons of waste in 2019, almost all of it from Massachusetts and New Hampshire. More than 220,000 tons – 93 percent – was subsequently put in the ground at Juniper Ridge.

The landfill in total brought in 800,000 tons of waste that year, meaning that a full quarter of the waste disposed of at the state-owned facility was from out of state.

Landfills can have a number of harmful impacts, including groundwater and soil contamination, air pollution, odor and noise. Many of Juniper Ridge’s neighbors, including the Penobscot Nation, are among the nearly 300 Mainers petitioning the Board of Environmental Protection – or failing that, the Legislature – to close the loophole.

Improving the neighbors’ quality of life isn’t the only reason that it’s a good idea to change the law. The waste disposal system is in upheaval after the market for recyclables collapsed, so more waste is ending up in landfills with only limited space. We are using more packaging than ever.

Regulators and lawmakers should recognize those realities as they consider the request from the petitioners. It’s only going to get more difficult to deal with waste in the years ahead.

It’s going to be hard enough to take care of the waste being created in Maine – the state certainly doesn’t need to bringing more in.


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