State officials on Tuesday issued a solid waste reduction plan that includes a provision to loosen a nearly quarter-century moratorium on new incinerators in Massachusetts, a move that activists decried as harmful to the environment.
The Patrick administration unveiled the Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, which will allow solid waste companies to seek approval to adopt new incineration technologies on a limited scale.
Officials say the technologies, called gasification or pyrolysis, convert garbage into liquid fuels or gas that is clean and renewable, unlike traditional incineration, which emits a heavy amount of pollutants into the air.
Ushering in the technology is necessary, because diminishing landfill space in Massachusetts is forcing the state to export a large amount of trash, environmental officials told the Globe last year.
“Massachusetts can no longer afford the same old methods of managing waste, and it’s unwise to rely on exporting our trash to other states,” Kenneth Kimmell, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, said in a statement Tuesday.
“By encouraging the development of innovative technologies, we can address that portion of the waste stream that recycling cannot now handle.”
Environmental activists are adamantly opposed to the plan, insisting that the new technologies are unproven and environmentally unsound. Also, the state could find more space for garbage if it stopped allowing banned materials such as recyclables, yard debris, and wood into landfills and incinerators, activists contend.
“Massachusetts should foster innovation that leads us to a sustainable future [and] new technologies for reuse, repair, and remanufacturing; not for destroying resources,” Lynne Pledger, an official with the environmental group Clean Water Action, said in a statement.
Don’t Waste Massachusetts, a coalition of groups that opposes relaxing the moratorium, called incineration “dirty and inefficient” in a statement Tuesday and labeled it “the most expensive way to generate energy.”
“Gasification [staged incineration] has a record of failure in this country and worldwide,” the statement said. “Also these facilities compete with recycling plastic, paper, and cardboard.”
Kimmell disputed that contention in a phone interview, arguing that some European communities have high recycling rates while allowing for incineration of materials that cannot be recycled.
The new incineration technology will only be permitted for materials that are not being recycled and will be limited to 350,000 tons of solid waste annually, or roughly 5 percent of the total amount that is brought to landfills in Massachusetts each year, Kimmell said. He said it is not yet clear when the new technology will be launched, but companies seeking to use it will have to win approval from the state and from their host communities and meet environmental efficiency standards.
“I realize this proposal has generated some controversy,” Kimmell said. “The big picture, what the master plan is really about, is a bold vision for increased recycling and reuse of materials.”