HARTFORD — A key part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to cut back on the state’s trash is facing opposition from trash and recycling haulers and processors, who say it will take away valuable recycling commodities.
Seeking to address what Lamont and Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes have said the state is facing a trash crisis as it sends nearly 860,000 tons of municipal trash out of the state, Lamont proposed an extended producer responsibility, or EPR program, where manufacturers of packaged goods would be responsible for funding recycling of their packaging.
Frank Antonacci, COO of Murphy Road Recycling – which owns several recycling and trash management companies in Connecticut – told lawmakers on the legislature’s Environment Committee on Monday that creating a statewide EPR program would “send Connecticut down a dangerous path” and jeopardize the recycling systems already set up in the state.
Connecticut lost a third of its capacity to handle trash within its borders when the MIRA plant in Hartford’s South Meadows shut down in July – which DEEP said increased the amount of trash leaving the state from 17 to 40 percent of its total municipal waste.
Antonacci said that is an “often misrepresented narrative that we are drowning in waste,” saying that Connecticut reducing the amount of municipal trash it throws out by nearly 15 percent over the last 14 years shows that waste management in the state is a success story.
“The truth is we are winning, and the waste stream is shrinking, and we are recycling now more than ever,” Antonacci said.
Antonacci wasn’t alone, as several representatives of trash and recycling businesses told lawmakers that EPR would hurt existing recycling businesses. Shelley Sayward, counsel for Casella Waste Systems – the owner of Willimantic Waste said that existing recycling hauler’s can’t be sure they’ll continue to pick up the same volume of materials they do now.
EPR works for hard-to-collect items like mattresses that can’t be handled easily by recycling facilities, Sayward said. But with EPR for all packaging, it’s possible the producers would want to set up their own collection and processing system – diverting valuable commodities from the recyclers that rely on them, she said.
“That reduction in volume and customers has the potential to crush their business model,” Sayward said.
Dykes told lawmakers that Connecticut is in a crisis with waste management, and said they need to act now to set up programs to restore the state’s self-sufficiency. Dykes said the bill, which would also raise fees on shipping trash out of state and require municipalities to set up separate food scrap collections, would put Connecticut on a path towards managing its own waste by the end of the decade.
She said EPR alone would take about 190,000 tons per year out of the waste stream – a figure industry representatives said was based on a flawed estimate – and could save municipalities $50 million a year in recycling costs.
Dykes said DEEP didn’t believe that the EPR program for packaging would lead “multinational producers” of packaged products to take over Connecticut’s recycling infrastructure. Rather, she said they’d be responsible for creating a “stewardship organization” to fund recycling programs.
Kevin Budris with Just Zero, an organization aimed at eliminating waste, said that a correctly implemented EPR program could be an important part of addressing Connecticut’s waste crisis. But the bill would do more harm than good because it doesn’t set mandates or penalties for producers.
“The advisory council [created by the bill] would be handpicked by consumer brands, and there’s no reason to think that the packaging industry – which has played an outsized role in creating this legislation, won’t get the approvals they seek on targets, fees and so much more,” Budris said.
Antonacci said he doesn’t believe the program would increase recycling rates, or divert the amount of trash from the waste stream that DEEP claims. While well intentioned, he said EPR would create a recycling system that’s less reliable and more expensive.
Others said EPR would give the packaging industry the push it needs towards creating more sustainable packaging. While packagers could pass on any additional costs to consumers, Dykes said the program would give them an incentive to create packaging with less plastic.
Caroline James, director of sustainability at Atlantic Packaging, a North Carolina-based packaging producer, said she works with companies that set ambitious goals for using recycled content in their packaging, but the demand for food-grade recycled plastic is much higher than the supply.
The expense and constant contamination of single-stream recycling also makes recycled plastic more expensive. EPR for packaging would help producers recover more of the packaging materials so they can make more recycled packaging out of it, she said.
“We have tons of material to recycle, but insufficient infrastructure to recycle it, and not enough incentives for companies to use recycled or recyclable packaging materials,” she said.
Antonacci said All American MRF, a “cutting edge” recycling sorting facility the company recently opened in Berlin, has capacity to handle several hundred more tons of recycling a day – additional capacity he said was built in anticipation of Connecticut residents continuing to recycle more.
Lew Dubuque with the National Waste and Recycling Association said DEEP hasn’t listened to the ideas from the industry. He said a simpler and more effective solution would be to set “reasonable” standard for packaging to include more recycled materials, like New Jersey did last year.
State Rep. Jaime Foster, D-East Windsor, who said Antonacci is a constituent in her district, told lawmakers they should look at other ways to change how companies make their packaging that don’t disrupt existing businesses in the state’s waste stream.
“Certainly packaging differences can be addressed, but you don’t need to change the waste management stream to address concerns you have with packaging,” Foster said.