Ben Harvey use to truck the garbage his company collected from area towns to Massachusetts landfills at a manageable cost.
But with the closing of landfills across the state, the president of Westboro-based E.L. Harvey and Sons is now spending an extra $1,500 per load to ship the refuse to places like Virginia and Ohio.
Landfills, he said, are becoming scarce and the state’s seven incinerators that burn trash are at capacity and often closed for maintenance.
Two landfills — one in Chicopee and another in Southbridge — closed in 2018 and two of the remaining seven that handle municipal solid waste are scheduled to shut down.
As a result, he said, the state is facing what he calls a potential crisis in waste disposal.
Massachusetts is running out of places to put trash and the situation will put upward pressure on prices as the cost of disposal rises for contractors.
“In certain circumstances, the lack of a local disposal option may drive increased costs as there is an added expense to move material to disposal sites out of the region,” trash processor Waste Management said in a statement.
Michele Bernier, director of waste disposal and recycling for North Attleboro, said she is about to go out for bids for a new contract with a waste processing firm and she is concerned about the price.
“I’m worried right now,” she said. “I think we’re paying about $80 a ton and I have a strong feeling that is a real conservative number.”
She said the problem is there is no “capacity” for taking trash, with landfills closing and incinerators maxed out.
But the message has not yet filtered down to some cities and towns.
Some local officials say they have contracts with their waste disposal companies and have not been approached about higher cost — at least yet.
They said the problem they have been dealing with the past few years has more to do with recycling, which Waste Management also said is a problem.
The Chinese firms that buy recyclable materials have gotten strict on what they will accept, and charge a penalty if there is too much non-recyclable material in the loads they process.
Local officials have made educational efforts to inform homeowners what can go into the recycling stream and what cannot.
Plastic bags are a major problem because they are not recyclable. Other items officials want to keep out of the stream include shredded paper, greasy pizza boxes, holiday gift wrapping and plastic cups.
Bernier recently told other North Attleboro officials that the cost to the town for recycling has increased from $40 a ton to $73.
Attleboro Mayor Paul Heroux has been using social media to encourage homeowners to be more careful about what they throw into the recycling bin.
“I say, ‘If in doubt, leave it out,’” he said.
But Heroux said the city has a contract with Waste Management for trash collection and disposal and the firm has not approached him about increasing the cost for regular trash disposal.
In fact, he is interested in allowing residents to use larger trash bins, similar to the ones used for recycling, so they can throw more stuff into the trash and keep recycling rates low.
In Plainville, Town Administrator Jennifer Thompson said the town is in the second year of a five-year contract with Harvey and Sons, which also serves Foxboro and Wrentham.
She said costs just went up for the first time in 17 years, from $120 per household to $150.
However, she said the increase was due to the recycling situation, not regular trash disposal.
But Bernier said that as towns encourage homeowners to keep items like plastic bags out of the recycling bin, that will only mean more trash, which will aggravate the landfill shortage problem.
Harvey said the day of reckoning is coming.
He said Massachusetts is running out of places to put its trash and the cost of shipping out of state is hefty.
People in the industry say it is highly unlikely new landfills will be created to handle the problem.
The last dump to be opened in Massachusetts is the Crapo Hill Landfill in North Dartmouth.
Dartmouth and New Bedford formed a regional authority to building the landfill in 1982 and it opened in 1995. The 13-year lag was due to an exhaustive permitting and financing process, Executive Director Scott Alfonse said.
The landfill serves those two communities and accepts a small amount of commercial trash, he said.
Alfonse said he is confident no other landfills will ever be built in Massachusetts. There is not enough land, neighbors would object and environmental and zoning regulations are too daunting, he said.
It was originally estimated that Crapo Hill would stay in business for about 20 years, he said, but trash has settled downward in the landfill, extending its life expectancy.
Officials now believe it will last until about 2027.
Bernier said it may be time for the state to consider allowing new, or enlarged, incinerators but require them to have the latest “scrubbing” technology to reduce air pollution.
Another step in the right direction, she said, would be to create large composting centers to dispose of food waste separately from other trash.
She said that when she was a child, food waste, or garbage, was always separate from trash, and it may be time to go back to that method.
Greg Cooper, director of hazardous and solid waste for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said 70 percent of the 4.5 million tons of household and business waste produced in Massachusetts each year is currently incinerated at in-state waste-to-energy plants.
However, the state for several years has had a moratorium on incinerators that use the old technology.
If a firm was willing to request a permit for an advanced incinerator that has a higher-level of pollution control, the state would consider it, he said, but no one has applied.
There are also no applications for new landfills.
Cooper said what the industry wants to produce is more transfer stations where trash can be loaded onto freight trains and taken to states where disposal charges are significantly lower, offsetting the increased transportation costs.