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DEC releases draft solid waste management plan: Recommendations focus on ‘circulator economy’ to promote reuse, prevent landfilling

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has released a draft of the New York State Solid Waste Management Plan for a 60-day public comment period. The plan, titled “Building the Circular Economy Through Sustainable Materials Management,” offers suggestions to reduce the climate impact of solid waste while providing guidance for New York’s waste reduction, reuse, recycling, collection, transportation, and disposal investments, policies, and practices over the next decade.

Solid waste is the fourth-largest contributor to climate-altering greenhouse gases, and New York’s efforts to reduce landfilled waste are critical to meeting the state’s ambitious climate goals, according to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The draft Solid Waste Management Plan is a roadmap for more sustainable solid waste management,” Seggos said. “By focusing on reducing waste at its source, returning materials back to productive use, and diverting waste from landfills, harmful greenhouse gas emissions will be avoided while sustaining the supply chain.”

The plan proposes a 10-year planning period, from 2023 through the end of 2032, with a broader planning horizon through 2050. The plan prioritizes advancing a circular economy and initiatives to prevent environmental degradation and economic loss by minimizing waste and ensuring valuable materials continue to circulate in the economy. A circular economy helps conserve natural resources, reduce energy consumption, prevent pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and protect the health of communities, with a focus on addressing unacceptable disproportionate burdens on Disadvantaged Communities and Potential Environmental Justice Areas.

The draft plan is available on DEC’s website, and public comments will be accepted until May 15. DEC will also host an informational webinar on the draft plan on April 11 to review the key elements of the Plan and allow attendees to ask questions.

The plan outlines major goals and potential action items to reduce waste and promote recycling, reuse, and responsible solid waste management. Goals include increasing opportunities for New York residents, businesses, and institutions to participate in waste prevention, reduction, and reuse; promoting the development and passage of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation for packaging and paper products; supporting commercial, industrial, and institutional waste generators to improve recycling practices; and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions from solid waste management facilities.

The release of the draft plan is a significant step in New York’s efforts to rethink waste, according to DEC. The waste sector is the fourth-largest contributor to climate change-causing emissions, after buildings, transportation, and electricity. To meet the climate crisis, DEC is advancing strategies to encourage a circular economy for other materials by designing for durability, reuse, remanufacturing, repairing, and recycling, as well as utilizing renewable resources and supporting a more sustainable food system. Diverting waste from landfills and renewing a resilient and recycled supply chain is integral to achieving the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while promoting a just and equitable transition to a greener economy.

In addition to resource conservation, the circular economy benefits communities across the state by reducing pollution and creating new jobs and economic opportunities. According to DEC, at least 80 percent of the material currently sent to landfills or combustion facilities has monetary value, either directly as material that could be used to produce goods or other beneficial uses, or indirectly through the creation of recycling sector jobs.

Comments on the draft plan should be sent to [email protected] by May 15. After reviewing public comments on this draft, DEC will further refine the plan before adopting and publishing a final plan to guide New York’s materials management efforts over the next 10 years. The state is also considering the Waste Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act (WRRIA), proposed by Governor Hochul’s 2023-24 Executive Budget, to manage and reduce waste throughout the state.