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October 14, 2014
Set standards and let innovation flourish
By Timothy P Fagan, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

“Set standards and let innovation flourish.”  These were the words of Massachusetts DEP Commissioner David Cash as the keynote speaker at the Air and Waste Management Association – New England Section’s recent fall conference.

Environmental regulations and standards are often seen as a drain on business and the economy, but if crafted thoughtfully, regulations and standards can also be an opportunity for businesses to come up with new and creative solutions.  This “glass-half-full” point of view is one of the philosophies behind regulatory development in Massachusetts.

Example: Commercial Food Waste Ban

Commissioner Cash cited the recent implementation of the commercial food waste ban in Massachusetts as an example of this philosophy in action.  According to Cash, Massachusetts produces enough commercial food waste in a year to fill Fenway Park 20 times.  There is limited landfill space in Massachusetts, so as a result, a great deal of money was being spent to dispose of it in-state or ship it out-of-state for disposal. 

By imposing the ban, the amount of waste being landfilled decreases, preserving valuable landfill space and reducing GHG emissions from landfills.  However, all of that food waste must be dealt with, resulting in an opportunity to recycle or reuse the waste, or convert it into useful products such as compost.

During the regulatory development process, which lasted 5 years, DEP involved numerous stakeholders, and the agency spent many months conducting outreach to help affected sources prepare.  Along the way, DEP streamlined the permitting processes for anaerobic digesters and compost facilities, and developed a webpage with guidance, compliance tips, and success stories.

A waste disposal ban is a significant regulatory step requiring a dramatic change in behavior for those affected, but by providing enough time from initiation to compliance, market solutions emerged such that the ban is not only environmentally beneficial, but in many cases is also economically beneficial.    

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