ISWM Landfill

In this file photograph, a truck rolls through the Bourne town landfill, commonly known as ISWM, for Integrated Solid Waste Management.

The Cape Cod Commission has approved plans to expand the Bourne landfill, which will help it provide solid waste services to Cape towns for another two decades. This is both a relief and a danger because the less visible the waste material is—at a landfill, it is buried and covered over; nothing to see, nothing to smell—the less incentive people have to address its sources and its effects.

Nearly a dozen environmental groups have argued that the landfill will not promote a sustainable solid waste management system or waste diversion and other zero-waste initiatives.

The Cape Cod Commission disagreed, calling the landfill “regional infrastructure that serves a critical role in managing the region’s waste.” While not a long-term solution for regional waste management, its presence is crucial until there is “a transition to higher recycling rates, composting and a zero-waste system.”

It is difficult to dispute the commission’s rationale here. This is not because we necessarily believe that expanding the landfill is the right course of action in principle—we are inclined to agree with the environmental groups that this “20-year fix” will remove the sense of urgency, even emergency, that is needed to accelerate waste reduction and diversion—but out of necessity and a lingering doubt that Cape Cod leaders, businesses, residents and visitors will adopt those alternative strategies at a level that will make a difference.

In other words, an expanded Bourne landfill is the only workable solution we have. Yet that conclusion doesn’t sit well with us.

(There is even the possibility, sadly, the amount of solids entering the Cape’s waste stream will increase, with certain consumption trends continuing and with potential development in Cape towns. This is despite encouraging efforts such as removing single-use water bottles from stores in many towns. With more people comes more trash.)

We must make sure that the amount of solid waste we generate and throw away on Cape Cod drops significantly long before the next time the Bourne landfill needs to grow. This is not a problem for somebody else in 2041; it is a problem for all of us today.

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