The rules are changing for garbage in Pennsylvania

Changes to the municipal and residual solid waste regulations within the State of Pennsylvania have been in the works for a number of years within the DEP’s Bureau of Waste Management. This article provides a summary of the currently understood status of the proposed rules, details of some of the proposed changes and commentary on the success of state recycling programs across the nation. Based upon the scope of the Pennsylvania proposal, I believe it is safe to say that virtually all citizens of the Commonwealth will feel the effects of this initiative.

First, a regulatory primer – although the USEPA sets forth key hazardous waste management provisions, the management of municipal solid waste, commonly referred to as MSW, is primarily regulated by state, tribal and local governments. USEPA sets baseline, national standards for the operation of all landfills. Of important note is the fact that MSW landfills can accept hazardous waste as part of the incoming household waste stream, however, there are rigorous restrictions on the management of similar materials from industrial facilities. As such, states have enacted specific regulations to prevent the disposal of potentially toxic and hazardous materials generated by such operations, including those materials from mining and agricultural activities.

In some respects, the State of Pennsylvania is unique in the promulgation of solid waste regulations that include separate provisions for municipal waste and industrial, i.e., residual waste. The current draft of proposed rule changes seeks to clarify some long standing overlaps between the municipal waste regulations (Title 25, Subpart D, Article VIII, Chapters 271 – 286) and the residual waste regulations (Title 25, Subpart D, Article IX, Chapters 287 -299), as well as put in place a set of regulatory requirements designed to create an environment virtually mandating recycling of certain commodities.

Waste is generally defined as garbage, refuse, industrial lunchroom or office waste and other material, including solid, liquid, semisolid or contained gaseous material. The key differences in scope of the rules are primarily based upon the regulated community. Municipal waste results from operation of residential, municipal, commercial or institutional establishments and from community activities while residual waste originates from industrial, mining and agricultural operations.

The municipal waste general procedures and rules apply to persons who operate municipal waste management facilities. The general provisions of Chapter 271, together with Chapters 273, 275, 277, 279, 281, 283, 284 and 285, specifies the Department’s requirements for municipal waste processing, disposal, transportation, collection and storage. Likewise, Chapter 287 and the associated components of Article IX, specify general procedures and rules for persons or municipalities who generate, manage or handle residual waste. Article IX specifies the Department’s requirements for residual waste processing, disposal, transportation, collection and storage.

Current Status

As of the November 8th, 2007 meeting of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC), the second round of revisions to what are termed Phase 1 Chapters have been completed and the first round of revisions to Phase 2 Chapters initiated. The SWAC agenda for 2008 includes:

January 16th meeting - Further discussions of the draft proposed regulations, an April 10th meeting - Formal request on recommendation of the draft proposed regulations.

The release of the proposed regulations to the Environmental Quality Board, to seek their approval, would likely occur in July or August, with public comment likely in the Fall of 2008. The release of the final regulations would be expected to occur in early 2009.

Proposed Changes

As noted above, a primary component of the rule changes has been the consolidation of several sections of the regulatory code. For example, the sections discussing General Provisions, namely Chapter 271 for municipal and Chapter 287 are proposed as a single modified Chapter 271. Here is a summary of some of the proposed chapter titles:
271 Municipal and Residual Waste – General Provisions
273 Landfills
279 Transfer Facilities
280 Beneficial Use (new)
285 Collection and Transportation
286 Storage (new)
298 Waste Oil

Important changes to Chapter 273 include the implementation of commodity bans (§273.21). The new rules set forth a sequence of bans that are effective within one, three and five years from the date of the new regulations. The new rules expand previous limitations to include (but not limited to) restrictions on the following:

Year 1: High-grade office paper, newsprint, corrugated paper, magazines, catalogs and directories, Bottles and jugs – specifically #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE) plastics, Aluminum, steel and bimetallic cans, Wood pallets, CRTs
Year 3: Glass bottles and jars, Shredded tires, Unpainted wood, and Yard waste.
Year 5: Mercury-containing devices and fluorescent bulbs, Oil-based paints, Source-separated food wastes, Mattresses and box springs, Rigid plastics, and Electronic waste.

The addition of Chapter 280, Beneficial Use, consolidates related municipal and residual waste beneficial use provisions currently found in Chapters 271 and 287, respectively. This new chapter includes a variance from some speculative accumulation requirements (§280.3) and details consolidated requirements within subchapters including: Permit-by-Rule (B), General Permits (C), Individual Permits (D), and several subchapters detailing minimum standards for Beneficial Use of Waste (E), Land Application of Sewage Sludge (F) and Beneficial Use of Coal (G).

Clarifying language has also been added with regard to the Management of Waste Oil (Chapter 298). Key changes to these rules include: Details on the levels of halogenated materials considered to be significant (Rebuttable Presumption language), Definition of mixtures of waste oils and waste (§298.10), Circumstances when generators must analyze their waste oil (§298.27), additional standards for the disposal of waste oil (§298.81), and Prohibitions on the use of waste oil for dust and vegetation suppression (§298.82).

The above details only a few of the proposed modifications. Full text of all current revisions to the rules can be found on the SWAC website noted later in this article.

The State of Recycling

There are a number of states that have implemented mandatory waste diversion, i.e., recycling, programs since the late 1980s into the 1990s. Such programs have targeted certain segments of the population, such as state agencies, public schools and other government agencies as well as the general public, with apparent varying levels of success. Under Act 101 of 1988, Pennsylvania has been requiring public and private schools, institutions of higher education and other education institutions to recycle. New Jersey has had a mandatory recycling program since 1987 while Rhode Island became the first state to pass mandatory recycling legislation in 1986.

The effectiveness of such programs appears to be in the eye of the beholder. In an article from March 2004, Daniel K. Benjamin, an economist writing for The Heartland Institute discusses the apparent misconceptions associated with mandatory curbside recycling throughout the nation. In his article he presents a case to dispel what he terms as “myths” regarding the benefits and reasons for recycling. However, an internet article posted November 16, 2007 on notes that with the passing of the 10th anniversary of America Recycles Day, apparently more that half of Americans (polled) support mandatory recycling as a strategy to help reduce global warming.

Unfortunately, the author has not yet examined all the data to conclude whether the position of the economist or polling group is more accurate. However, on a personal level, I believe that the old adage “No pain...No gain” is truly apropos to this situation. The participation in waste reduction and material recycling activities must involve Pennsylvanians within all sectors of our society in order to truly have a meaningful and positive impact on our environment.

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