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Managing the various waste streams on Cape Cod is critical to protecting air, soil, and drinking water supplies. The Cape Cod Commission Act, signed in 1990, calls for the provision of adequate capital facilities including solid, sanitary, and hazardous waste disposal facilities. In addition, the Cape Cod Regional Policy Plan outlines goals, objectives, and recommended actions for, among other significant issues, solid waste management and recycling, hazardous waste management, and water quality and wastewater management.

Solid Waste

Since 1990, the Commission has helped Cape Cod towns identify alternative disposal methods to unlined landfills. The Commission's efforts supported an integrated approach to managing wastes, focusing on waste reduction, recycling, and composting to supplement waste disposal transfer to lined landfills or the SEMASS waste-to-energy incineration facility located off-Cape.

Barnstable County's Cape Cod Cooperative Extension has a Regional Waste Reduction Coordinator that provides Cape Cod's 15 towns with technical assistance on issues related to waste reduction and recycling, including municipal solid waste analyses, pay-as-you-throw program implementation, difficult-to-manage waste diversion, transfer station operations, guidance on grant funding, and public education. 


  • Overview of 2021 County Studies
  • Out of State Disposal
  • Waste Diversion

Overview of 2021 Barnstable County Waste Feasibility Studies

Solid waste management is evolving in Massachusetts. Changes in recycling markets for commodities such as glass, paper, cardboard, plastics, and metals present challenges to towns. Fluctuations in recyclables markets can mean that what was once a revenue stream can become an expense.

These challenges are exacerbated by expected decreasing disposal capacity for municipal solid waste (MSW) throughout Massachusetts, which is documented in the Massachusetts 2030 Solid Waste Master Plan. In recent years, Cape towns have seen waste disposal contract prices increase two-fold.

In 2020, Barnstable County contracted with two consultants on two feasibility studies to analyze trends and identify options for future solid waste disposal and opportunities for increased waste diversion. A municipal solid waste out-of-state disposal analysis was performed by Geosyntec Consultants, and municipal solid waste diversion options for recyclable, reusable, and hard to dispose materials was studied by Tetra Tech. The purpose of both studies is to support Cape Cod towns with their MSW management.

PRESENTATION: 2021-12-01 Solid Waste Studies Presentation

Out-of-State Disposal Cost/Benefit Analysis

This study examined costs to towns of disposing of MSW out-of-state, and the costs to get those materials to the out-of-state disposal facility via rail haul. The analysis included looking at on-Cape options for collecting and processing disposal materials for transport out-of-state and how food waste diversion would reduce disposal and transportation costs for Cape communities (cost avoidance).

Key takeaways from the study:

Total tonnage disposed at municipal transfer stations on Cape Cod and the Islands is approximately 85,000 tons per year.

Organics (food waste and compostable paper) is the largest component of the disposal stream; 30,000 tons of organics can be separated for on-Cape composting, offering avoided disposal costs and reductions in GHG emissions.

Composition of Waste For Analysis

Given expected loss/reduction of in-state disposal options as mandated by MassDEP, out-of-state waste-by-rail disposal was recommended as the most cost-effective long-term disposal solution. Over a 15-year period, Cape & Islands towns could save between $34M (expected cost estimate) and $15.6M (high-cost estimate) by switching to out-of-state disposal via rail haul compared to current in-state disposal operations.

A single contract with an out-of-state disposal facility could include management of the rail transport system needs. There is sufficient rail-head capacity at both the Yarmouth Transfer Station and Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station at Joint Base Cape Cod (or a combination of both) to store and load rail cars for out-of-state MSW transport.

Diverting organics for on-Cape composting will save the region money and reduce GHG emissions. Setting up and operating a decentralized composting system with up to 3 subregional composting facilities will cost between $200,000 and $5M, reducing the disposal cost savings stated above. However, the MassDEP is likely to expand food waste diversion waste bans over time and creating such a system will position the region to implement organics composting. In addition, diverting and composting food waste generated on Cape Cod will result in an approximately three-fold reduction in GHG emissions from waste management. 

Diversion Options for Recyclable, Reusable, and Hard to Dispose Waste Materials

This study examined options and costs to divert household recyclables and hard to dispose materials for reuse and recycling, so that they are diverted from landfill or incinerator disposal. The study examined on-Cape options to collect and process materials for eventual reuse and recycling and identified potential markets for processed materials. On-Cape opportunities to collect, process for reuse or energy generation, and recycle materials at Joint Base Cape Cod, the Bourne Integrated Solid Waste Management facility, and the Yarmouth transfer station were examined.

Materials considered included:

  • Common Household Recycling​
  • Organics (food scraps, yard waste)​
  • Construction & Demolition​
  • Textiles​
  • Mattresses​
  • Bulky Items​
  • White Goods​
  • Tires​
  • Electronics​
  • Universal Waste​

Key takeaways from the study:

An in-depth analysis of waste stream components received at municipal transfer stations included the materials listed above and identified seasonal fluctuations in waste stream components collected. State reported materials volumes were supplemented with direct reports from many Cape & Islands municipal transfer station operators.

Tons of Recycling by Cape Towns, 2017-2020

The study identified recycling and reuse programs and markets as ‘beneficial uses’ to help reduce costs by offering a variety of potential outlets for solid waste material streams. Stakeholders from industry groups, non-profits, environmental groups, and volunteer town recycling committee members were engaged for input and ideas about waste diversion needs and opportunities.

Focus on organics and C&D: Because they compose the largest, and often heaviest, components of the regional waste stream, the study focused on organics (food waste, leaf and yard waste, and other compostable materials) and Construction and Demolition debris. Processing options for these and other waste stream components were identified.

Opportunities to collect and process waste stream components in Bourne, Yarmouth and at Joint Base Cape Cod were examined.

The study recommends working with the Town of Yarmouth as they pursue an anaerobic digester for food waste and/or biosolids processing and a potential de-packaging facility at the Yarmouth Transfer Station. The Town of Bourne Integrated Solid Waste Management facility was examined for the potential to expand on-going regional recycling programs. Two parcels at Joint Base Cape Cod, including the Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station, were examined for potential long-term opportunities to site region-wide facilities to process various waste stream components.

Facility needs, existing facility locations, access options, and distance from the Cape to each facility was identified. Program costs were identified for various waste stream processing facilities that could be developed on Cape Cod.

Key opportunities for county support include supporting collaborative and cooperative opportunities with the towns, the use of the County Procurement Office to issue requests on behalf of participating towns seeking private solutions for collaborative waste management, and the development of standard educational materials on recycling for residents, seasonal and short-term visitors, and businesses that towns may adapt with their own messaging and branding.


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Hazardous Waste

The Commission identifies the "ongoing generation of hazardous wastes, and the transport, storage, and use of hazardous materials" as a risk to the drinking water supply in the Regional Policy Plan (RPP). 

Cooperative Extension has a Hazardous Waste & Water Quality Program whose mission is to "protect our drinking water supply, an unconfined sole-source aquifer, through public education and regional collection programs of hazardous materials."

Project Resources

View All Resources

41K pdf
Feb 23, 2007
Town Transfer Station Fees - 2007 Barnstable County, Cape Cod, Massachusetts TOWN STICKER FEE2ND RECYCL /DAY COMML PER C&D BULKY AUTO TANKS SCRP MTL BRUSH & BOATS CRT'S LARGE…
151K pdf
Sep 27, 2013
New Bedford Waste Services LLC. Waste Disposal Agreement Exhibit A Page 1 WASTE DISPOSAL AGREEMENT – Exhibit A New Bedford Waste Services, LLC and Customer agrees to the terms…
368K pdf
Jun 25, 2008
HHW Report 2007 HHW Report 2007 2007 Household Hazardous Waste Report Collections funded in part by Barnstable County prepared by Barnstable County Cape Cod Commission 3225 Main…
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