HARTFORD – A bill aimed at cutting back on the amount of trash produced in the state passed unanimously through the House on Monday after removing provisions to make manufacturers responsible for waste from packaging and to pay for a new trash-burning energy plant with a fee on municipalities.
Creating an “extended procedure responsibility” program for all packaged goods was a key provision of Gov. Ned Lamont and DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes’ proposal to address the trash “crisis” left behind after the MIRA trash-burning energy plant in Hartford closed last year, leaving the state to ship nearly 860,000 tons of municipal trash to out-of-state landfills.
While Dykes and Lamont said the proposal could take 190,000 tons per year of packaging trash out of the waste stream, it faced fierce opposition from Connecticut recyclers who said it would jeopardize an existing recycling system they contend is already working.
With opposition mounting early in the legislative session, the “EPR” for packaging didn’t make it out of committee in March, though on Monday lawmakers did overwhelmingly approve a plan to make tire manufacturers responsible for recycling old tires.
State Rep. Patrick Callahan, R-New Fairfield, the ranking Republican on the Environment Committee, said he had “great concerns” with the original bill, but said it’s much better without the EPR program or the assessment on municipalities.
“This bill in its current format is much better,” Callahan said. “The industries can live with this, and it’s something that will give them opportunities to improve the waste situation in the state.”
Speaking to reporters before the vote, House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, was less optimistic. The budget lawmakers ended up approving late Monday night partially hinged on negotiations on a $5 per ton fee to municipalities on waste shipped out of state, which would be used to build a new waste-to-energy plant.
Ritter said negotiations stalled over a “chicken and egg” problem: the towns know they’ll pay tipping fees to bring their trash to a new plant whenever it’s built, but they don’t want to pay an assessment up front before it’s built.
But Ritter said the state needs money to build the plant, which he said would cost about $400 million and would be state-of-the-art, burning trash in the “nicest way you can burn it.” To bond for the project the state would need $20 million a year in revenue, plus interest, he said.
“The executive branch wants the towns to pay for that, there’s just disagreement on that,” Ritter said. “It’s a very small amount of money that you need to really get up and running.”
But the state needs a new facility, said Ritter, but it would not be at the site of the former MIRA plant in Hartford’s South Meadows.
“We should have done a better job,” Ritter said of the final bill.
But proponents said the bill still makes progress on Connecticut’s trash problem. The EPR was replaced with a requirement that packaging be made of at least 30 percent recycled content – a requirement State Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, chair of the Environment Committee, said was loosened from earlier versions to ensure there’s enough “feedstock” of recyclables to make that goal.
It also requires any plant the state eventually builds to replace MIRA to have an anaerobic digester and fuel cell.
The bill doesn’t keep an earlier requirement for municipalities to provide food scrap separation and collection by 2028, which Dykes has said could pull another 185,000 tons of food waste out of the waste stream each year.
It does require hospitality and entertainment businesses and rehab, health care, and correctional institutions with at least 26 tons per year of organic waste, including food, to have it composted at state-authorized facilities.
Despite the fiercely contested public hearings on the bill, and the long negotiations, there was little discussion on the bill once it reached the floor of the House and passed unanimously on Monday. The bill still needs approval of the Senate before the session ends on Wednesday.