Existing & Emerging Waste Management Technologies

Facility and equipment requirements and costs for transfer to the mainland


Existing solid waste management facilities

At present, the system for managing solid waste on Nantucket is comprised of the following elements, as illustrated here:

Waste Streams and Flows_2018


  • A solid waste composting facility (the Composter) mixes organic components of household trash with sewage sludge and animal manure, screens out plastics and other residual materials greater than 3/8”, then processes the mix into compost. The Composter is owned and operated by a private company, Waste Options Nantucket, LLC (Waste Options), and is located at the Town-owned site at 188 Madaket Road.
  • A landfill owned by the Town adjacent to the Composter.  The landfill is not permitted to accept solid waste for disposal per its operating permit and applicable regulations (see MassDEP Waste Disposal Bans); rather, the landfill accepts residual materials that are screened out of the materials being processed into compost.
  • A materials recycling facility (MRF) and adjacent drop-off facility accepts recyclable materials separated by residents and businesses from non-recyclable components of waste. The recyclable materials are sorted and aggregated, then shipped to material brokers on the mainland. Glass is collected separately, crushed, and used as daily cover for the active landfill cell.
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  • Two transfer stations owned by private companies accept construction and demolition debris waste (C&D waste) for shipment to processing facilities on the mainland – one owned by Waste Options adjacent to the Composter and MRF on the land along Madaket Road owned by the Town, and one owned by a private company, P & M Reis Trucking, Inc., at a private site on Industry Road.

The Waste Services Agreement between the Town and Waste Options, which governs the operation of the Composter and the MRF, the operation of the landfill and adjacent areas for hard-to-manage wastes, and use of the Waste Options transfer station, is scheduled to terminate in 2025.The Town must decide shortly whether to continue to use the Composter after 2025, and, if so, on the commercial terms that would govern its use after the Waste Services Agreement expires. The Town seeks input on all aspects of this decision.

The landfill has sufficient capacity in cells with an advanced bottom liner to continue to take residuals from the Composter through 2025 and beyond, depending on whether capacity is used solely for those residuals or is also used for other permittable solid wastes (e.g., catch basin cleanings, inert materials and bulky waste, but not household trash and not construction and demolition debris (C&D waste)).


Alternatives to the Composter for managing household trash

Transfer to the mainland and emerging technologies


The Town has no easy alternatives to the Composter for managing Nantucket’s compostable waste and sewage sludge sustainably and affordably after 2025 in the event that the Composter no longer operates. State laws and regulations do not allow the landfill to be used for disposal of unprocessed household trash solid waste or C&D waste (see Solid Waste Management Facility Regulations). C&D waste is already being shipped to the mainland.

The Town seeks input on feasible alternatives to the landfill and the Composter, which might involve either shipment of all household waste and sewage sludge to the mainland or development of an alternative waste processing facility on Nantucket. These options also involve challenges. In particular, the Town seeks comments that address the following:

Transfer to the mainland

  1. Trucks moving household trash to the mainland pose significant risk of unacceptable odor impacts en-route.  Trucks with odorous waste loads have been banned from the commercial ferry and have caused unacceptable conditions while queued at the dock before boarding the ferry.
  2. Technology is available to bale and bag or wrap solid waste in single-use impervious materials, in order to control odors, but at significant costs. 
  3. Development of a separate barge or ferry transport system would be extremely costly due to the small scale of such a system and the uneven use of the system throughout the year. Under applicable environmental laws, trash hauled by a barge must be containerized and cannot be deck-loaded, which changes the cost structure (Mainland Disposal Costs Memo: August 10, 2016; Mainland Disposal Costs Memos: April 30, 2019).
  4. Moreover, once the waste gets to the mainland, disposal options are limited. Southeast Massachusetts faces a huge shortfall in disposal capacity and rising disposal costs in the aftermath of recent landfill closures in Fall River, Southbridge and elsewhere, and with increasing amounts of waste being sent by truck to upstate New York and even Ohio and Virginia. See MassDEP reports here.

Given that all-in costs are unpredictable, is transfer to the mainland an option that the Town should pursue?  


Emerging technologies

The Town is aware of numerous new and emerging technologies (e.g. pyrolysis, gasification, and thermal hydrolysis) for managing solid waste through a facility that might be developed on the island. The Town has not yet found a technology that has operated commercially in the U.S. at the scale that would be required to accept and process Nantucket’s solid waste into marketable products with manageable levels of residuals. The cost and reliability of such technologies are unknown. However, technologies that might be attractive continue to advance in other locations. Among these are technologies for converting waste plastics (which are main components of Non-Recyclable/Non-Compostable waste, Composter residuals and the materials stockpiled in Cells 2B and 3A at the landfill) into synthetic middle distillates, including marine diesel or home heating oil, as well as technologies for processing the entire organic component of the waste stream. Some of the technologies of which the Town is aware (none of which it has yet endorsed or selected) are described at the following links:

Should the Town pursue development of a facility on Nantucket that uses emerging technology to process waste plastics, or to process the entire organic waste stream currently being converted to compost, notwithstanding the uncertainties regarding technical and economic feasibility and associated risks and costs? Under what conditions regarding facility ownership, financing, construction, operation and product disposition should the Town pursue such technology?

This page was last updated on October 1, 2019.