Baltimore City Solid Waste Planning

Below is context on the biased and controversial process that led to the formation of Baltimore City’s “Less Waste, Better Baltimore” plan.  The biases and problems with the plan are exposed in the extensive public comments on the plan.

Baltimore City is one of eight member counties in the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NMWDA, or “Authority”). This Authority was created by state law and serves as a consulting body on solid waste issues. They’re heavily invested in waste incineration and aggressively push plans to burn trash, even though trash incineration is the most expensive and polluting way to manage waste (or to make energy). Baltimore pays over $400,000 per year in membership dues to the Authority, and the Authority profits from contracts they have with incinerators in the state.

In 2017, the Authority chose six companies to be on-call consultants for solid waste planning. They rejected a consulting team that is comprised of experts in the field of Zero Waste, but accepted consultants who are notorious for promoting trash incineration. See our writeup of concerns about the biases in the Authority’s chosen consultants, which includes a list of recommended Zero Waste experts at the end.

In 2018, the Authority wrote nearly identical proposals for Baltimore City and Montgomery County to spend $400,000 to $500,000 to hire one of these consultants to do long-term waste planning for each jurisdiction. The only two remaining trash incinerators in Maryland are in these two jurisdictions and both are intimately tied to the Authority. Montgomery County and Baltimore City officials insist that they wrote the scope of work for each independently, yet they were both actually authored by Chris Skaggs, Executive Director of the Authority.

Both proposals seek to continue the use of incineration through 2040 and beyond, even though these two incinerators are the largest air polluters in their city/county. The proposals also would have consultants studying other awful ideas. In Baltimore, the consultants would be examining building a new incinerator in the city, pelletizing trash to burn in power plants, privatizing the city-owned Quarantine Road Landfill, and deliberately filling up the landfill quickly, forcing the city to have to export trash to private landfills or incinerators in Pennsylvania or Virginia. None of this is in the public interest.

In 2017, Baltimore City Council passed three resolutions that all urge the city to move away from incineration and toward Zero Waste. This consulting process would fly in the face of this.

Out of concern for this entire process, Energy Justice Network wrote up proposed amendments to the scope of work. The mayor’s office and city council members were concerned, and Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke met with Baltimore Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Chow and his staff, along with Energy Justice Network, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and United Workers. DPW Director Chow and staff were extremely defensive and hostile at the suggestion of bias and the need for changes, and ultimately moved ahead with the contracting, ignoring all of the concerns.

In response, on May 14, 2018, City Council unanimously sponsored and passed a resolution slamming the Department of Public Works, calling for the city to follow prior city council resolutions, to follow the internationally peer-reviewed Zero Waste Hierarchy, and to plan to close the incinerator by the time its contract expires at the end of 2021. See our press release for an overview.

This was reported on in the Baltimore Brew, Real News Network, and the industry press.

Without any regard for the public or the unanimous City Council resolution, the Baltimore Department of Public Works and the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NMWDA) pressed forward with their proposal. The final “Less Waste, Better Baltimore” plan, as designed, urged the continued use of the 36-year old trash incinerator, recommending that the city sign a new 5, 10, or 20 year contract.

In an illegal no-bid contract issued in November 2020, during the lame duck Mayor Young administration, the city ultimately extended the contract to keep burning waste at Wheelabrator Baltimore for another ten years, as if the incinerator would last until 46 years old, when only two incinerators have ever lasted that long (the average age of those closed since 2000 is 23).

The following documents were obtained by a Public Information Request by Energy Justice Network:

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