Zero Waste for Massachusetts

MA_ZeroWaste_Trash_source: Canva

The Problem:

In an economy designed to consume as much as possible as often as possible, it’s no surprise that we churn through products so rapidly that we are facing an escalating planetary waste crisis. Millions of tons of items we might not have needed in the first place require ‘management’, a euphemism for dumping, usually in economically or racially oppressed communities. We’re running out of places even to bury all these materials and have invested billions of taxpayer dollars in burning them, sending toxic chemicals into surrounding communities, waterways, air, land and bodies of people and other living creatures. 

This burden falls disproportionately on poorer communities and communities of color. Boston still incinerates nearly 80% of its residential waste, and pays tens of millions annually for the privilege. Needless to say, this all exacerbates climate disruption, making it all the more urgent that we rethink the entire materials economy and our relationship to it.

The Solution - Zero Waste:

In Massachusetts, there is growing demand from residents and communities for better alternatives to this destructive process. While municipalities sometimes eye disposal as a viable alternative to recycling programs, costs for which have risen due to changing markets and stricter standards for cross-contamination of materials, residents and grassroots groups have passed scores of municipal bans on plastic bags, straws, styrofoam etc, and see robust ongoing turnout across the state at community meetings discussing waste impacts and recycling. Students have raised the idea of sustainability curricula at schools that reinforces a zero waste message.  Host communities of incinerators, landfills and other disposal facilities have been active for decades in advocating for closure and alternatives to be deployed. 

Clean Water  has worked for decades with people and groups in the zero waste movement to re-imagine our relationship with the materials we produce, transport, distribute, consume and dispose of. Zero waste switches the conversation up entirely: a linear system from extracting raw materials to disposing of finished products becomes a circular economy that produces only what is actually needed, doing so with non-toxic materials and respecting the lives of workers and communities along the way, and then cycling materials back to be reused or otherwise dealt with sustainably at their end of their useful life.  Places like Seattle, Austin and even Chicago have been reaping the benefits of zero waste planning for years; Massachusetts now has the opportunity to set a statewide precedent and lead the way.


As co-coordinators of the Zero Waste Boston (ZWB) coalition, Clean Water led a decade-long campaign to map out the city’s waste system and with our ZWB partners, helped organize key players and affected stakeholders to reach consensus on how Boston should reorganize its waste systems, leading to Boston’s planning process for a pathway to zero waste. 

We also have been involved with the fight against the country’s oldest incinerator, in Saugus MA, which burns a large portion of Boston’s municipal solid waste, and dumps the remaining super-toxic concentrate into pristine wetlands surrounded by low-income environmental justice communities. These kinds of injustices have fueled a growing statewide chorus of calls for saner alternatives that respect our communities and environment, while salvaging useful materials and growing a sustainable economy.

Our Goal:

We have joined the Zero Waste Massachusetts coalition to intervene in planning for the state’s Solid Waste Master Plan, a waste blueprint for the coming decade. We envision a statewide policy and implementation infrastructure that achieves 70% diversion by 2030, 80% by 2040 and Zero Waste (at least 90%) by 2050, in a way that maximizes benefits to all stakeholders. This is a critical moment for us as a state to join others who have made the transition to zero waste successfully, and to lead the commonwealth towards a comprehensive plan that captures the benefit to communities, industry workers, public health, the environment and the economy.