RD861 - Report to Governor Ralph S. Northam and the Virginia General Assembly on Executive Order Number Seventy-Seven – Solid Waste Reduction and Diversion – December 17, 2021
A growing population and a booming economy present significant solid waste management challenges for Virginia. Since 2011, solid waste disposed at landfills and incinerators in Virginia has increased from 21 million tons to nearly 23 million tons per year. At the same time, many recycling programs in the Commonwealth have curtailed or ceased operations since China stopped importing U.S. recyclables in 2018.
Landfills or incinerators subject to strict environmental standards are the best option for waste that cannot currently be reused, recycled, or composted. Such facilities, no matter how strictly regulated, can have negative environmental and social impacts on nearby communities and siting often raises environmental justice issues. Therefore, it is critical that the Commonwealth focus on reducing its disposal of solid waste and diverting as much waste as possible from landfills and to beneficial reuse.
Single-use disposable plastic items are a particularly pervasive solid waste challenge. Plastics are the most common type of marine debris in our ocean and along our coasts and pose a severe and growing threat to fish and wildlife and to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. In 2019 alone, volunteers collected more than 12,000 plastic bags and 13,000 plastic bottles, in addition to many other types of marine debris, from Virginia’s coastline.
A new report from the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) has identified the United States as the top global generator of plastic waste, generating a total of 42 million tons of the 242 million tons generated worldwide.(*1) Of that total, NAS estimates 8 million tons enters the oceans each year. The report said that so much plastic waste is flowing into the ocean worldwide that it is equivalent to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
It is within this context that Governor Ralph S. Northam issued Executive Order Seventy-Seven: Virginia Leading by Example to Reduce Plastic Pollution and Solid Waste.(*2) As a large producer of solid waste, the Commonwealth must lead by example and phase out its use of plastics and polystyrene items in favor of better alternatives. The Commonwealth must also significantly reduce the amount of solid waste it sends to landfills and incinerators, and work with the private sector to do the same.
The order puts the Commonwealth on a path to eliminate most single-use plastics at state agencies, colleges and universities, imposing a near-term ban on several common, but unnecessary disposable plastics and requiring the phase out of other items by 2025. Executive Order Seventy-Seven also directed the Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources to develop recommendations for reducing solid waste and divert such waste from landfills through composting, beneficial reuse, enhanced recycling, and other strategies.