ZERO WASTE is the recycling of all materials back into nature or the marketplace in a manner that protects human health and the environment.



CONTACT: Lynn Landes, Zero Waste America 215-629-3553 /

The Politics of Waste in Pennsylvania

Since April of this year, Zero Waste America (ZWA) has twice polled the entire PA legislature for support of a Yardwaste Disposal Ban as the first step toward eliminating waste and stopping waste imports. At last count, only four legislators support the ban, Rep.Dave Steil(R), Rep.Lisa Boscola(D), Rep.Mark McNaughton (R), and Rep.Ellen Bard (R). Believing that 'disposal bans' are a strategy worth pursuing, Rep. Steil and Rep. McNaughton have offered to propose supporting legislation.

For the last several years, both Republican and Democratic politicians have publicly railed against the tidal wave of waste entering Pennsylvania. Their concerns appear to be more political than environmental, as most legislators ignore simple solutions and avoid tough choices; while Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) seems to be supporting the expansion of the waste industry in PA.

Rep. Mark McNaughton, again, appears to be an exception in Harrisburg. On Monday, April 20, 1998, Rep. McNaughton submitted legislation which calls for, "...the department (DEP) shall immediately cease reviewing applications and cease issuing permits under the act of July 7, 1980, known as the Solid Waste Management Act, for the construction of new, or the expansion of existing, municipal waste disposal facilities until the department has developed, implemented and received Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approval for a State Solid Waste Management Plan as required by the Federal Solid Waste Disposal Act."

Conversely, on Earth Day, April 22, the Democratic Caucus flanked by well-intentioned environmentalists, also plans to call for a moratorium on the permitting of more landfills and incinerators by the DEP. However, it appears that they have not based this moratorium on any legal justification, without which it cannot be sustained. It raises the question as to whether the Democratic Caucus is simply grandstanding.

ZWA has long called for the PA DEP to produce a Waste Management Plan. Under federal law these plans must include provisions to maximize recycling and minimize waste disposal. A phase-in period for Disposal Bans should be a required component. An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), assessing damage to public health and the environment, is also a requirement under federal law.

The Ridge Administration continues to lobby for passage of the controversial federal Interstate Waste Legislation, claiming that only Congressional action can control waste imports. ZWA's founder, Lynn Landes, disagrees. She has been a vocal critic of proposed federal Interstate Waste legislation and has testified before committees of the PA Assembly that it would have little real effect on waste imports. She points out that the legislation only applies to "unwanted" municipal waste. Disadvantaged communities would continue to be compelled to accept waste facilities through economic incentives.

ZWA promotes "disposal bans" as the most effective way to control waste imports. A disposal ban prohibits designated types of waste from entering landfills and incinerators. This method of controlling waste was recommended by the Federal Court of Appeal, 7th Circuit (Aug 1995) in National Solid Waste Association v. Meyer (representing Wisconsin), when it ruled that "{a state} could realize its goals of ...protecting the environment by mandating that all waste entering the state, first be treated at "remove designated wastes." The more types of waste that are banned for disposal, the fewer types of waste can be imported.

In addition, the DEP could discourage other states from exporting their waste to PA by simply enforcing existing law, strengthening land use regulations, or raising state disposal fees. Instead, DEP has loosened regulations and permitted waste disposal programs that masquerade as 'recycling.'

An example of this is a DEP program which allows sewage sludge to be used as fertilizer for which farmers and land owners may receive indirect compensation in the form of cheap fertilizer. Much of this sludge could be coming from New York. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited New York from dumping it off the New Jersey shore, a decades-old practice. U.S. sewage is considered by many environmentalists to be not appropriate for use as a fertilizer, due to contamination from industry and hazardous home products, as well as the presence of medicines, antibiotics, and pathogens in human waste.

Pennsylvania's politicians and the DEP can say "no" to waste imports, but they appear to prefer to promote waste as a growth industry and use the U.S. Congress's inaction on Interstate waste legislation, as an excuse for their own. << END >>