Managing Municipal Waste in New Hampshire

PRS Briefs
PRS Policy Brief 0708-05
Monday, May 12, 2008

Current in-state landfill capacity is adequate for the next 25 years, when New Hampshire will have to begin the potentially expensive endeavor of exporting waste, according to New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services. To extend the lifetime of in-state solid waste disposal capacity, New Hampshire must more effectively reduce the volume of solid waste disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Reducing the amount of solid waste generated (source reduction), augmenting the state's disposal capacity through the construction of new landfills, or increasing the recycling rate on a district-by-district basis are three approaches that can address solid waste management problems in New Hampshire. This report focuses primarily on the third of the aforementioned options.

Several policy options are available to help New Hampshire municipalities recycle more effectively. The standardization of data collection and implementation of a measurable policy goal could improve the accuracy of data collected by the state and allow state agencies to more effectively identify and assist the areas in need. One way to begin this process would be to mandate that all private haulers report tonnage processed directly to the state. This could help create a more complete data set, which could better identify problem areas and target resources more effectively. A second policy option is to continue to encourage and assist municipalities in implementing "pay as you throw" (PAYT) programs, which are proven to increase the recycling rate by reducing waste disposal costs as individuals are forced to pay for the trash they generate. Towns that have implemented PAYT (e.g., Littleton) have recycling rates that are 10 percent higher than the state average. Instead of requiring communities to pay for solid waste generation, PAYT programs encourage individual responsibility for waste generation.

One way to raise the rapidity and effectiveness with which municipalities implement PAYT programs is to increase state funding for waste management programs and personnel. Additional statewide waste management initiatives cannot be undertaken without personnel increases, which can properly manage increased responsibilities that such actions would require. Finally, the state should explore the imposition of a statewide surcharge on tipping fees to provide funds for the necessary efforts and to discourage the wholesale disposal of recyclable items in landfills.

These four policy options, while challenging and potentially costly, could allow New Hampshire's waste management programs to make viable efforts to extend the state's solid waste disposal capacity and forestall the necessity of resorting to waste exportation. While it is not certain which particular policy option is best suited for New Hampshire at this time, we recommend a combination of the four options mentioned above. Alternatively, a strong focus on one option may extend the lifetime of in-state landfill capacity and New Hampshire's ability to determine independently how it deals with solid waste.