HARTFORD — A bill raised by Gov. Ned Lamont that aims to cut down the amount of trash shipped out of state advanced out of the legislature’s Environment Committee on Friday, but without the program that state officials say will have the most impact on actually reducing the state’s garbage problem.
The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has said that extended producer responsibility, or EPR — making manufacturers of packaged goods responsible for paying to recycle their packaging — would eliminate 190,000 tons of trash a year from Connecticut’s waste stream.
DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes and Lamont have made it a key piece of their plan to address what they call Connecticut’s waste crisis, where the closure of a trash-burning plant in Hartford has left towns and cities to ship 860,000 tons a year of residents’ trash out of state to landfills in Pennsylvania and Ohio. But the plan floundered as the trash and recycling industry argued it would jeopardize the recycling systems already set up in Connecticut.
The bill passed by the Environment Committee on Friday would only allow Connecticut to move forward with extending EPR to packaged goods if four other neighboring states and a population of 20 million people set up their own EPR programs for packaging, State Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, co-chair of the Environment Committee said.
The bill passed by the committee also left out another Lamont proposal — a $5 per ton fee on trash shipped to out-of-state landfills, which DEEP has said is effectively subsidized now. It does include a food-scrap diversion program that is a major piece of DEEP’s plan to reduce trash volumes, and requires plastic beverage containers to have recycled content, Gresko said.
Despite the compromises, Republicans on the committee pushed to eliminate the EPR provision entirely. State Rep. Francis Cooley, R-Plainville, said a bad idea for Connecticut is still a bad idea, even if other states go ahead with it. Other Republican lawmakers said moving forward with EPR would add costs to products that consumers will ultimately have to pay.
“In this committee, we tend to see problems, and we want to do something,” State Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, said. “And we put stuff on paper, really, without understanding the full ramifications of what we’re doing. And we don’t analyze the unintended consequences as we should.”
State Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, said it was irresponsible to act like it’s not a serious problem that the state is forced to rely on out-of-state landfills to get rid of more than 800,000 tons of municipal waste a year. The bill lets Connecticut move together with other states towards a solution, she said.
“Consumers are paying now. When waste is shipped to Ohio — which is in the middle of the country — from Connecticut, a lot of towns are paying $120 a ton right now to ship their waste,” Mushinsky said. “That falls on the property taxpayer, and it falls on the consumer. And it is more cost effective, and more efficient for us to handle our waste internally, as we used to do in Connecticut, rather than send it far away at a great expense.”
State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, said people have been waiting for their entire lives for industry to voluntarily “do the right thing” to reduce waste, and said the bill represents a compromise.
“If they do not want the heavy hand of government coming down and telling them what to do, then they should self-police and pivot their business model the way so many other parts of our society have had to do because of changing times,” Palm said.
In a statement, DEEP said Connecticut’s waste crisis isn’t going anywhere unless the state supports new solutions, which it said it will continue to explore with lawmakers. It said the amount of waste leaving the state as a result of MIRA’s trash-burning plant closing last year hurts the environment and adds costs to residents and businesses as tip fees increase.
“As we export 860,000 tons of waste per year, which now needs to travel farther for disposal, we’re now at the mercy of out-of-state communities, which is not sustainable economically or environmentally,” the department said. “Our proposed solutions aim to divert trash that is valuable, support municipalities, and work with the various stakeholders involved in handling our state’s trash. We continue to have productive conversations and will continue to do so to make trash and recycling services affordable and convenient for Connecticut.”