Waste and Recycling


Above: Staff at Boston’s Lenox Hotel compost food scraps to divert them from the waste stream.

In the Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, released by the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) in 2013, the agency stated that every year, Massachusetts throws away enough material to fill 74 Fenway Parks.   One of the goals in the plan is to reduce solid waste disposal 30 percent by 2020, from 6,550,000 tons of disposal in 2008 to 4,550,000 tons of disposal by 2020.  ELM supports this goal.  We advocate for measures that will decrease trash and increase reuse, recycling, and composting, thereby reducing environmental impact, improving public health, saving money for taxpayers, and creating jobs.  Read this January 2015 Commonwealth Magazine to learn about opportunities that are being left on the table and how some communities have enhanced their bottom lines by decreasing waste. 

Our work

State Budget Advocacy

Each year we advocate for the state operating budget to restore funding for the Recycling and Solid Waste Management program within MassDEP.

In Fiscal Year 2009, the budget for recycling and solid waste management was over $2M. By Fiscal Year 2013 the budget was cut to a mere $375,000. Our advocacy helped secure a 33% increase in funding for Fiscal Year 2015, to bring the program to $500,000.  Since Fiscal Year 2008, staff levels have been reduced from 19 to their present level of 8 full-time equivalents. Among other needs, additional staff is needed to administer and track municipal recycling grants, enforce the state waste ban, and provide technical assistance to businesses, institutions, and cities, and towns.


We are involved in crafting and supporting legislation that will advance recycling in Massachusetts.  During the 2015-16 legislative session, one of our top priorities is An Act Relative to Recycling (SD229), filed by Senator Marc Pacheco.

This bill establishes a solid waste performance standard for cities and towns of 600 lbs. of trash per capita per year by July 1, 2016 and 450 lbs. per capita by July 1, 2021.  This would help close the gap between communities that have strong recycling programs and those that do not.  Almost half the communities in Massachusetts (46%) are already in compliance with the near-term per person cap.  Almost a quarter (24%) already meet both requirements.  This legislation passed the Senate (but not the House) in 2014 (last legislative session) and is projected to reduce trash by hundreds of thousands of tons per year, saving cities and towns millions of dollars while increasing recycling, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and creating green jobs in Massachusetts.

Additional ELM solid waste priorities include:

An Act to Reduce Solid Waste, Increase Recycling and Generate Municipal Cost Savings (SD374)

Lead sponsor: Senator Jason Lewis

This bill would implement several strategies for reducing solid waste and increasing recycling in the Commonwealth, consistent with the state’s Solid Waste Master Plan.  These strategies include setting specific municipal recycling performance targets, strengthening oversight and enforcement of waste bans, strengthening regulation of waste haulers, and improving the collection and reporting of solid waste data.  Increased funding to implement these strategies would be provided by a $1.50 surcharge assessed per ton of solid waste disposed.

An Act Reducing Solid Waste and Providing for Universal Recycling (HD2913)

Lead sponsor: Representative Paul McMurtry

This bill would require all residences, businesses, and institutions to separate recyclable materials that are banned from disposal, and to make arrangements for materials to be recycled. It would require waste haulers to offer recycling service to all customers, and MassDEP to develop informational materials about this law to be distributed by local authorities and haulers to their customers.  It gives MassDEP authority to enforce these provisions on generators and haulers at the point of generation, and requires haulers to report data as requested by MassDEP.    

An Act to Increase Access to Recycling (HD2045) 

Lead sponsor: Representative Michael Day

This bill would require all municipalities that provide trash services to also provide recycling services.  It also requires all private waste haulers to provide recycling services. 

An Act Relative to Public Space Recycling (SD1090)

Lead sponsor: Senator Anne Gobi

Would require state agencies and courts, state-operated parks, and high-traffic facilities to provide public recycling receptacles to recycle glass containers, metal containers, paper and plastic bottles.  Also requires municipalities to collaborate with MassDEP to develop and implement a plan for public space recycling appropriate to the unique circumstances of the municipality.  Applies only to entities currently subscribing to waste disposal services, since converting those services to include convenient recycling should be a low-to-no-cost effort with a strong positive environmental impact.

Where does our trash go and what’s the impact?

Material that is thrown away is sent to landfills or burned at incinerator facilities.  

-Landfills: Rotting trash in landfills generates significant amounts of methane, a highly warming gas which is a main contributor to climate change. In addition, leaching from landfills can contaminate ground water.  Because many Massachusetts landfills reached capacity, much of our waste is transported out-of-state, at great cost to Massachusetts residents.  The miles that the material travels adds to the environmental impact because of the fuel consumption and air pollution caused by the vehicles.  Learn more about the environmental impact of landfills by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency website.

© 2010 ELM - Environmental League of Massachusetts - All Rights Reserved.

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