Ten zero waste ideas for the next governor of Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey and her administration have a huge opportunity to address one of the most pressing environmental and public health issues today — our waste crisis. With Black Friday upon us and shopping season ahead, it’s a good time to remember that “Reduce” is job number one.  Here is a Top 10 list of suggestions from Zero Waste Massachusetts to get the ball rolling towards a zero waste Massachusetts.

1-Enforce the Department of Environmental Protection’s waste bans: Our recent report, The Need to Enforce, shows that 40% of the waste in Massachusetts’ landfills and incinerators are materials banned by DEP’s regulations. Landfills and incinerators pollute our air and water, take up open space and are expensive and unsustainable. 

2-Ban single use plastic bags: We use bags for an average of 12 minutes, yet they stay in the environment for years. More than 140 cities and towns in Massachusetts have already enacted such bans. We need to make this a statewide law.

3-Ban polystyrene (aka styrofoam): These plastics are made of petrochemicals, there are plenty of alternatives already on the market and in use.

4-Producer responsibility for packaging: We need packaging manufacturers to take financial responsibility for the waste they create. Maine and Oregon have already passed such a law. Massachusetts should follow suit.

5-Reduce food waste: Food waste comprises more than a third of what we send to landfills and incinerators. This is a ‘double whammy’– when you bury food waste, it emits greenhouse gasses. We need to invest in composting infrastructure such as curbside collection and anaerobic digesters. 

6-Update the bottle bill: Beverage container redemption is our most effective recycling tool, but the guidelines have not been updated in 40 years. A billion single use beverage containers end up as litter or in landfills and incinerators.

7-Right to Repair: Electronic waste is the most dangerous/poisonous thing most of us throw out. Many of our products could/would last longer if we required manufacturers to provide the information and parts we need to repair our stuff. A recent Consumer Reports survey showed that 25% of people who had a phone that broke set out to repair the phones but ended up replacing them because of barriers to repair.

8-Promote “libraries of things”: We need to advance a culture of ‘reuse.’ Recycling alone is not enough to cut back on our waste. So many items in our everyday lives we only need once or a few times a year. Let’s set up the infrastructure for reuse, including places people can borrow those things they only need every once in a while. 

9-Truth in labeling: Recycling triangles, numbers and arrows have misled us for years about what is recyclable. Journalists have exposed their proliferation as a PR stunt. We need standards and transparency. 

10-Re-establish the 1980s state moratorium on new incinerators and establish a moratorium on new landfills and prevent expansion of existing ones, including the Saugus ash landfill.  If we do all of the above, we will not need them and can start phasing out the ones we have. 

Zero Waste Massachusetts is a coalition of organizations, including MASSPIRG, Community Action Works, Clean Water Action Massachusetts, Conservation Law Foundation, and Just Zero.