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The Argument: Should Massachusetts adopt a moratorium on new or expanded landfills?

Read two views and vote in our online poll below.



Staci Rubin

Vice President of Environmental Justice, Conservation Law Foundation; resides north of Boston

Staci Rubin Laurie O’Reilly

Landfills leak toxic chemicals into our soil and water, damaging our public health, communities, and environment. It’s time to reduce the amount of trash we generate and stop relying on landfills.

In Massachusetts, landfills are reaching capacity, and the costs for waste disposal are growing. Yet instead of reducing how much trash we produce, we haul more than 35 percent of our waste to be buried or burned out of state. But expanding landfills or shifting our burden onto others will not fix the problem. Instead, we must produce less trash.


As part of the Zero Waste Massachusetts coalition, the Conservation Law Foundation supports enforcing the state law banning certain recyclables and compostable materials from landfills and incinerators. We recommend three simple changes to achieve additional waste reduction.

First, we must divert all food scraps and yard clippings — almost 33 percent of our waste — from the trash. State officials must support local composting programs, ban food scraps from disposal, and ensure we turn those materials into good, clean compost. Not only could this cut food disposal fees in half for municipalities and businesses, it would produce at least double the number of jobs compared to landfilling, a study by the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives found.

Second, state officials must incentivize waste reduction programs, which slash residential trash by about 44 percent almost immediately, according to the waste management firm WasteZero. Many municipalities have pay-as-you-throw programs in which residents buy $1 to $2 garbage bags for their trash. Once in place, these programs help people change their purchasing and recycling habits, generating much less trash and passing on huge savings in trash disposal and litter removal to their cities and towns.

Third, our state Legislature must modernize the Bottle Bill to keep even more beverage containers out of the trash. This change would save considerable money and ensure these materials get recycled into new containers instead of ending up buried, burned, or littering our streets.


Making these legislative and regulatory changes is long overdue. Meanwhile, we calculate the waste industry makes almost $600 million annually from Massachusetts trash. Landfilling is a profitable business, so the industry lobbies hard for us to build new or expanded landfills. Instead, it should help us figure out how to reduce, reuse, recycle, and compost our trash.


Benjamin A. Harvey

Chair, Mass. chapter of the National Waste & Recycling Association; owner, E.L. Harvey & Sons trash and recycling, Westborough

Benjamin A. Harvey

It is our opinion that any landfill moratorium enacted in Massachusetts would be an ill-advised plan at this time.

Currently the Commonwealth is in a disposal crisis, which requires us to export some of our waste to other states. This is hardly the time to close the door on providing new or expanded landfill space.

Massachusetts disposed of 5.9 million tons of solid waste in 2020 from its businesses, institutions, and residents, according to data from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Of that total, 3.7 million tons were disposed of in-state at waste-to-energy plants and landfills. The remaining 2.2 million tons was exported out of state for disposal.

Our state must take the responsibility of safely handling its solid waste by providing adequate recycling and disposal capacity within its borders. We cannot continue to rely on other states for the management and disposal of waste products that were generated here in the Commonwealth. It is simply irresponsible to push our waste beyond the state’s borders for them to deal with — just as it would be if other states imposed that burden on our communities.


Shipping waste out of state by truck or rail has the potential of increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which is counter to the reduction goals the state has set to help fight global climate change.

We cannot think that restricting the state’s disposal capacity by adopting a moratorium on new or expanded landfills will result in us recycling or diverting our way out of the current disposal crisis.

The waste industry has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate material recovery facilities and construction and demolition recycling facilities throughout the state to help achieve the Department of Environmental Protection’s recycling goals for 2030.

Allowing for the development of new landfills or the expansion of some of our current landfills will better enable the Commonwealth to safely and responsibly handle the solid waste generated from businesses, institutions, and residents. The current disposal system allows no room for any unexpected facility shutdown, major weather event, or rail strike that could lead to waste material possibly being left uncollected at the curb.

We need to increase our disposal capacity, not limit it.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.