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N.H.’s new trash plan is due in October. Some advocates say it needs work.

Daniela Allee

State regulators are in the final stretch of developing a long-overdue plan for dealing with New Hampshire’s trash, and their draft is facing criticism from advocates who say it’s not strong enough on issues like out-of-state waste and the diversion of waste from landfills.

New Hampshire’s last trash plan is from 2003, and many are looking towards how this new plan, due October 1st, will move the state forward.

“We've really fallen behind regionally in the way we treat our solid waste. An awful lot of it is being landfilled. We don't have the infrastructure that we need to do a lot of the recycling and composting that we want to do. And step one is to lay the groundwork for all of that,” said Rep. Karen Ebel.

Ebel chairs the Solid Waste Working Group, which advised New Hampshire’s Department of Environmental Services on the new plan.

She says she's seen a lack of state funding over nearly two decades hold state regulators back.

“I think the agency has to assert more strongly…that it needs more funding to accomplish its goals,” she said.

The Department of Environmental Services used to have a team that was responsible for trash planning and community assistance – 6 or 10 people in its heyday, according to Mike Nork, the supervisor of the Materials Management, Education and Planning Section.

But that team suffered from budget cuts that slowly drained the program until it no longer existed. Deadlines for a new trash plan came and went. Now, Nork is trying to rebuild through his division, with just a team of two.

As the current plan is being finalized, advocates say major changes to New Hampshire’s waste system are needed, but the plan isn’t up to the task.

“We have a state waste management hierarchy that says that landfilling is supposed to be our last priority, and yet we continue to use landfilling as our most common method of disposing of waste,” said Heidi Trimarco, a staff attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, whichsued state regulators for failing to update the trash plan.

In comments submitted to the department, the Conservation Law Foundation says the draft from state regulators doesn’t provide action steps for achieving its own goals, and misses major themes, like dealing with out-of-state waste and prioritizing infrastructure that could keep waste out of landfills.

The foundation also says regulators should lay out legislative priorities that would advance its goals. Unlike the 2003 plan, which called for the state’s environmental services department to pursue and develop particular legislation, the draft update uses softer language, the organization says.

“It's a laundry list of possibilities or things that the state might explore, options the state may consider over the next ten years. And that's really disappointing,” Trimarco said. “It’s missing deadlines. It's missing timeframes. It's missing real actions that are measurable and that assign responsibility.”

An advocacy group called Working on Waste also submitted comments, recommending that state regulators develop a zero-waste goal, instead of the diversion goal in state law – 25% by 2030. That group also pushed regulators to more thoroughly address toxic substances.

Nork, with the Department of Environmental Services, did not comment on particular critiques of the draft plan, but said state regulators are reading through the comments they received and will evaluate how to address them in the final plan.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.

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