Bills to reduce waste imports won’t affect Turnkey and NCES landfills


Monitor staff

Published: 04-02-2024 5:13 PM

Modified: 04-02-2024 6:12 PM

Rochester is home to the largest landfill in New England, the Turnkey landfill, where more than half of the waste comes from out-of-state rather than from within New Hampshire.

In 2023, the Turnkey landfill took in over 595,000 tons of out-of-state waste out of the total 1.1 million tons dumped, accounting for 53%.

But the two bills introduced in this year's legislative session aimed at reducing the influx of out-of-state waste, will not halt the steady stream of solid waste from other states being dumped in New Hampshire's existing landfills. It will only apply to newly permitted landfills.

Operated by Waste Management, the Turnkey landfill, like the North Country Environmental Services landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems in Bethlehem, is privately owned. Under this type of ownership, they face no restrictions on the origin of the trash they accept, turning New Hampshire into a dumping ground for New England.

The House Bill 1632, which cleared the House of Representatives last week caps the out-of-state trash waste accepted by landfills at 15%. It only applies to new landfills, leaving existing ones unaffected.

This loophole allows the state’s two private landfills to continue accepting any amount of waste from neighboring states like Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Acknowledging the issue of current landfills being able to accept trash from other states, even if the legislation is enacted, Adam Finkel, an environmental scientist said that these bills represent a step forward in the right direction.

“You got to start somewhere. Stop the bleeding,” said Finkel. “It’s the first thing you do and then you work at the damage that’s already been done.”

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Even House Bill 1145, which passed by a 208-162 vote on the House floor, that seeks to prohibit private ownership of landfills does not apply to existing ones. Under this proposed legislation, any new landfills would be owned by the state, while private waste management companies could still operate them under contracted agreements.

“We really don’t want it to be the same model. We wanted to have a different set of guardrails,” said Wayne Morrison, president of the North Country Alliance for Balanced Change, a nonprofit environmental group that has worked with legislators on many landfill bills. “The problem right now is they make all the money and we take all the environmental hit, all the risk and there’s no real public benefit for it.”

Both bills serve as a means to circumvent the Interstate Commerce Clause by granting the state authority to regulate the types of waste accepted, thus sidestepping potential conflicts.

The purpose of the Interstate Commerce Clause is to prevent states from placing barriers that impede private companies from conducting business across state lines.

At both of these private landfills, Massachusetts is the largest contributor of out-of-state trash.

Last year, the Turnkey landfill received 504,722 tons of waste from Massachusetts, compared to 530,396 tons from New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, at the Bethlehem landfill operated by Casella Waste Systems, which is considerably smaller in scale, 15,147 tons of waste out of the total 193,995 tons dumped came from out of state.

“I think over time, we need to work with the legislature and the Department of Environmental Services to reduce the amount that they’re taking in,” said Morrison. “Not only is it an environmental risk, it’s about carbon footprint with trash traveling a long way to landfills. It’s also about consuming capacity that could be used for New Hampshire trash.”