HARTFORD – Gov. Ned Lamont says he wants lawmakers to consider two proposals that together could cut out about 44 percent of the nearly 860,000 tons of trash that is being trucked out of state since one of the state’s five trash-burning incinerators shut down last summer.
Lamont is proposing to make companies responsible for disposing of the packaging waste from their products, an idea that has raised concerns in the past over its potential cost to consumers. He also proposed boosting programs to take food scraps out of the trash stream as key first steps to ending Connecticut’s reliance on out-of-state landfills.
When the MIRA plant in Hartford’s South Meadows shut down in July, the state lost a third of its capacity to dispose of trash within the state – nearly 740,000 tons per year, much of which is now being trucked out to landfills in Pennsylvania. DEEP said it projected the closure increased the amount of trash leaving the state from 17 to 40 percent.
Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes calls those outflows of waste Connecticut’s “self-sufficiency gap,” and the two proposals are outlined in a draft strategy for eliminating that gap by 2030.
The draft strategy estimates that implementing “extended producer responsibility” for packaging could take 190,000 tons per year out of the waste stream, and that 185,000 tons per year of food waste could be diverted partly by boosting food scrap recycling programs that have been piloted in 15 municipalities.
Standing in front of the shuttered South Meadows plant on Tuesday morning, Gov. Ned Lamont said it’s now the state government’s job to find a responsible and environmentally sensitive way to move forward with trash disposal, by diverting as much as possible out of the waste stream.
Currently, Connecticut diverts about 35 percent of its trash through recycling or composting, the same rate as it did in 2016 – and well below the 60 percent goal in state statute, according to the DEEP report.
“It’s similar to what we’ve done in the electric grid, where we know the cheapest electrons are the ones that you don’t use, and we have a proud history of investing in energy efficiency,” Dykes said. “Similarly in the waste sector, we want to prioritize programs that we know can work effectively to help us take control of our waste and reduce that self-sufficiency gap.”
Even if the extended producer responsibility and food waste diversion programs live up to DEEP’s estimates, that accounts for 375,000 tons of trash a year – less than 44 percent of the state’s “self-sufficiency deficit.”
The state has extended producer responsibility programs for electronics, mattresses, paint, and mercury thermostats, where the producers set up a process outside the normal waste stream for their products to be disposed of. The cost of mattress disposal, for example, is funded by a fee customers pay when buying a mattress.
Lamont is proposing to extend producer responsibility to packaging, which Dykes said will save municipalities $50 million in recycling costs.
Last year, lawmakers considered a similar bill that would have required manufacturers to submit a plan to DEEP for how their packaging would be collected, transported and recycled, modeling laws passed in Colorado and California.
That bill sparked significant opposition at a public hearing in the State Capitol over concerns that it would cost roughly $700-900 a year for a family of four, citing a study by York University that estimated similar legislation in New York would add between 4 and 6.35 percent to the cost of packaged goods.
DEEP disputed those estimates, citing a Columbia University report that estimated the cost to consumers couldn’t be more than 2.3 percent. Dykes said the alternative is to pay increasing rates for municipal governments to dispose of trash.
On average, the cost for municipalities to have trash hauled has increased from $60.90 per ton in 2012 to $102.50 per ton in 2022, and according to DEEP, will continue to escalate because of a higher reliance on trucking trash out of state.
Dykes also said the strategy will incentivize producers to reduce the amount of packaging they use to reduce their own costs.
“It’s one of the most affordable strategies that we can implement to reduce waste and lower the cost of disposal,” Dykes said.
Lamont will also propose giving “universal access” to the food scrap collections by 2028, building on the pilot programs like one in Middletown where customers put their own food scraps in a separate bin to drop off at collection sites.
He will also propose imposing a $5 per ton fee on trash destined for out-of-state landfills, which DEEP said is effectively incentivized because the state charges a fee on trash-burning plants.
“It’s the nuts and bolts of what government is about,” Lamont said. “People leave that trash off at the curb, and we need to deal with it in a cost-effective and environmentally responsible way.”