Solutions to State’s Garbage Woes May Come at Municipal Level
With the cost of trash disposal increasing drastically on an annual basis, the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex are working toward finding more sustainable disposal practices. All three towns are now members of the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM). Chester agreed to sign on most recently, at its Feb. 10 Board of Selectmen meeting.
The coalition, spearheaded by the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) and more than 75 municipalities, has worked since September to find ways to reduce and manage waste throughout the state.
A series of recommendations by the coalition were finalized in mid-January, which offer “system reliability, environmental sustainability, and fiscal predictability,” according to a Jan. 12 press release issued by DEEP.
The focus on reliability and predictability with these new measures comes at a time of transition for the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), which operates the regional waste-to-energy plant in Hartford. All three towns have a service agreement with MIRA.
After the state last year rejected MIRA’s plan of operations, which asked for $330 million in state subsidies to help repair and upgrade its aged facilities, the quasi-public state agency disclosed that it would convert its facilities to a transfer station.
This means that an increased amount of the state’s garbage would be sent for out-of-state disposal, most likely to landfills. In 2016, 100,000 tons per year of municipal solid waste (MSW) were sent for out-of-state disposal. In 2018, it was approximately 400,000 tons of MSW, according to CCSMM.
“If nothing is done, residents and municipal leaders can expect tipping fees to increase at the remaining in-state waste-to-energy facilities, along with rates for out-of-state landfilling,” according to the release.
Officials from DEEP also said that landfilling means “unpredictable cost increases” for towns and businesses “as they compete for transportation and landfill capacity.”
MIRA President and CEO Thomas Kirk said by email with the Courier that “to avoid landfilling in other states, Connecticut should invest in the best and cleanest options available. Those are recycling and trash-to-energy.”
He continued, saying, “Unfortunately, at this time there is no commitment by the state to invest in state-of-the-art trash to energy disposal, so [we] will have to rely on less desirable, less reliable, and environmentally less preferable landfilling in western and southern states.”
Kirk has targeted June 2022 as the time frame for when these changes will occur at MIRA, saying that the “trash and recycling [currently] accepted [at the facility] will not change” and adding that “pricing is to be determined, but will remain ‘at cost.’”
The MIRA tipping fee for Chester, Deep River, and Essex is $91 per ton of MSW until July 1, 2021, according to Kirk, and is subject to change each fiscal year.
Nearly a quarter, 22.3 percent, or 520,000 tons, of the state’s total solid waste consists of food, according to the 2015 statewide waste characterization study from DEEP.
Diverting this type of waste and repurposing it into something useful is regarded by many state and local officials as an important step in reducing the amount of garbage in the state.
Essex First Selectman Norman Needleman announced at the Feb. 17 Board of Selectmen meeting that the town’s transfer station will start accepting food scraps from residents, free-of-charge.
The town is partnering with Hartford-based Blue Earth Compost, a food scrap collection service, which transports food waste to an anaerobic digesting facility in Southington. The food waste is converted to methane and then used as a form of energy.
“The state is going to have a major effort to reduce the waste stream and there is no better way to take compostable materials, other than in your backyard if you want to do that,” said Needleman.
The conversion of food waste into biogas, “is a great way to create energy without…burning fossil fuels,” he added.
In addition to diverting food waste, CCSMM recommended support for extended producer responsibility programs, especially for materials such as tires and gas cylinders that are difficult to recycle, and metering trash or unit-based pricing.