Maryland Bottle Bill and Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan

Maryland’s “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan,” drafted by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and supported by Gov. Martin O’Malley, aims to accomplish a 25% statewide reduction in GHG emissions by the year 2020. To achieve this laudable and ambitious goal, the state is relying on significant increases in solid waste diversion, and increase in recycling and will be pushing for more recycling–oriented legislation, including a bottle bill.

The Maryland bottle bill, introduced in the spring of 2013, was unsuccessful but Gov. O’Malley seeks to bring it back to the table. According to the plan, less than 25% of our bottles and cans are currently being recycled. It is projected that the plan would get our state to an achievable goal of 80% container recycling by 2020.

An article from the Baltimore Sun mentions that, “the 10 states with bottle bills have container recycling rates triple ours and have all seen major reductions in litter.” Also, a 2011 impact analysis by the University of Maryland’s Environmental Finance Center asserts that “beverage container deposit programs have proven to be the most effective tool for reducing litter.”

Despite these optimistic pros concerning the bottle bill, a reader response from Ellen Valentino, executive vice president of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Beverage Association, puts a damper on the issue.

Some concerns Valentino has are as follows:

  • “While the bottle deposit scheme sounds simple — assess Marylanders a fee, say 5 or 10 cents on every bottle or can of water, soda, beer or juice they buy — it opens up a world of unintended consequences that ultimately leads to a more expensive and more complicated recycling system for Maryland.”

  • A detrimental effect of the bottle bill would be Marylanders visiting neighboring states to buy beverages to avoid the tax, and neighboring residents traveling to Maryland to profit.

In addition to the bottle bill, the “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan” also pushes for increased recycling efforts. The plan states, “Progress toward our waste diversion goals is achieved through recycling and source reduction activities. In that regard, Maryland’s goal is to maintain per capita annual waste generation at its current level of 1.26 tons. In addition, expansion of existing  recycling and product re-use programs are critical to achieving a related State goal – to  reduce the amount of waste disposed by 11% by 2015 and 29% by 2020 (from 2006 levels).”

Some ways the State of Maryland proposes to reach their recycling goals are:

  • By reducing and ultimately eliminating use of plastic carry-out bags.

  • Increasing recycling of beverage containers…by way of enacting a beverage container recycling law.

  • Implementing residential recycling at multi-family dwellings.

  • Strengthening state agency recycling and waste diversion goals and strategies to lead by example.

The new Plan wouldn’t be complete without proposing an increase of the renewable energy portfolio standard from 20% to 25% by 2022.  To this end, Gov. O’Malley has also instituted the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 which created a fund to build 200 megawatts of wind energy. Gov. O’Malley intends to use this fund to construct one of the nation’s first offshore wind energy farms off the coast of Ocean City.

The “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan” also advocates waste-to-energy (WTE) as a greenhouse gas mitigation strategy and states,”facilities can reduce GHG emissions through generation of electricity that displaces higher carbon fossil fuel-fired generation, and through recovery of ferrous and non-ferrous metals not ordinarily captured by residential recycling programs. The  recovered metals avoid the GHG emissions associated with the less energy efficient production of metals from raw materials.” The plan also notes that, “according to EPA, when compared to landfilling, WTE is often the better disposal option for generation of cleaner electricity.”

Additionally, the plan mentions that,”the State’s long term goal is to minimize the need for waste disposal facilities through implementation of enhanced waste minimization, recycling, reuse and composting  initiatives. Unfortunately, however, because of projected population growth and other  factors, we expect a continuing need for post-recycling disposal facilities for some years  to come. Because of its carbon benefits, there is a role for WTE as a bridge technology in  the State’s greenhouse gas mitigation strategy.”  Certainly WTE has a role in the waste management hierarchy.  However, the controversial WTE facility in South Baltimore, that may have begun construction this week, says it “needs more time to line up more suppliers of fuel.”  Since the “fuel” is waste and the State projects Maryland’s waste will grow, what do they have to line up?  Does this mean they will be importing waste from outside the State?  How does that help reduce Maryland’s GHG emissions?

Some counties are eligible to  receive a 5% credit toward their recycling goal for material sent to a WTE facility in existence prior to January 1, 1988, as defined in the Maryland Recycling Act of 1988 but the eligible counties have not used the credit since 1995, having achieved their mandated reductions without it.  Let’s hope the plan isn’t a numbers game in which the “residue” from single stream collection goes to new WTE facilities and suddenly we’ve hit the plan’s 2030 recycling goal of 90%. Instead, we hope to see a rise in recycling that will result in more materials being recycled into new materials rather than being sent to WTE facilities. As a familiar environmental slogan goes, “It’s only waste if you waste it.”  Achieving 90% recycling through reliance on WTE would be a waste.

Check out our corresponding infographic about the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan above.