Environmentalists Return to Unfinished Work Cut Short by Pandemic

From updating the bottle bill to modernizing the electric grid, environmental advocates are looking at 2021 as a second chance to tackle legislation that got left behind in 2020.

The Connecticut League of Conservation Voters spent Tuesday afternoon discussing the impending “waste crisis” facing the state as the largest trash-to-energy incinerator, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), is set to close in 2022.

The conversation could almost have taken place one year ago as the majority of environmental legislation never made it to a vote during the shortened 2020 legislative session. 

“A lot of environmental legislation stalled last year which isn’t totally unreasonable, but now we are really in a waste crisis with MIRA closing in 2022,” said Kelsey Wentling, the River Steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy. 

The first piece of legislation the league and many other advocates are lobbying for, yet again, is an update of the Connecticut bottle bill. 

Connecticut’s bottle bill, a 5 cent deposit available for most beverage containers, was passed in 1978 and first implemented in 1980. The bill was modified slightly between 2008 and 2010, but the redemption value and the type of beverage containers accepted — apart from adding water bottles in 2009 — has remained the same. An update has been proposed each year for the past several years.

“Fifteen new deposit programs started since 2017 available to 300 million people, it is a global movement,” said Louis Burch, the Connecticut Program Director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “But in Connecticut, we failed to make timely updates to keep up with the market trends and inflation…if we don’t take action now we run the risk of additional redemption centers closing their doors.” 

Burch and others are proposing an expansion of the types of beverage containers accepted, an increase in the deposit from 5 to 10 cents and an increase in the handling fee for recycling. 

In addition to the bottle bill, municipal composting and extended producer responsibility programs were suggested as a means to reduce waste generated in the state.  

“We need to think about food scraps as a valuable resource instead of waste,” said Sam King, co-owner of Blue Earth Compost. 

King is advocating for municipal, curbside collection of compost in order to make it easier for all households to participate. In addition, he said the legislature should be considering incentives to encourage companies and institutions to compost as well. 

Extended producer responsibility programs would also put more of the onus on commercial entities rather than consumers. 

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has developed a list of 35 products that could be ripe for a EPR program.

“Producers should be in charge of end of life for products,” said Kim O’Rourke, the recycling program coordinator for Middletown. “This would help transition pick up away from municipalities to producers, reducing the cost for the taxpayer.” 

This year the focus is on passing legislation that would establish a tire, gas cylinder and paper and packaging extended product responsibility program. 

“When tires run out of life we typically leave them with the car dealership or maintenance person,” said Wentling. “Most of the time those tires get trucked to Maine and incinerated at pulp mills as fuel. This is dubbed as recycling, but it’s more like burning trash and it doesn’t align without climate goals.” 

An ERP for tires – which State Rep. Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, is planning to propose – would require the tire manufacturers to take them back and incentivize them to produce products that can be recycled or reused. 

The bottle bill, composting and ERPs all aim to reduce the amount of waste being sent to incinerators and landfills throughout the state. However, none of the proposals address what should be done with the waste – even if smaller in quantity – that Connecticut residents and businesses will produce in the future, a task that will face the legislature this session as they prepare for MIRA’s closure. 

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