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The State Needs Solutions For Garbage Crisis



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Trash. We all generate at least some, every day, just living our everyday lives. And with ours and every one else’s in the state, we’re overwhelming Connecticut’s ability to deal with it.

The Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority considers Connecticut to be undergoing a waste crisis. According to HRRA Executive Director Jennifer Heaton-Jones, this is because Connecticut residents annually produce 3.5 million tons of municipal solid waste when the state only has capacity for 2.7 million tons of it.

Connecticut used to have full capacity back in the late 80s when, considering ways to deal with solid waste, it closed landfills and established six waste-to-energy plants throughout the state. Two of the six waste-to-energy facilities have since closed, creating an 800,000 ton shortfall for capacity.

Heaton-Jones said that it currently takes about 125,000 trucks to move most of the 3.5 million tons of waste to these facilities, and it takes around 29,000 more trucks to move the rest out-of-state due to lack of capacity. This is only partially why she and HRRA are determined to find ways to reduce waste production in Connecticut.

The bottom line is — Connecticut has too much trash and not enough room. Our capacity to produce trash is outpacing our ability to dispose of it. For generations, we buried garbage in landfills or sent it to waste-to-energy incinerators. But since two of the state’s six incinerators have shut down, the state cannot keep up.

According to the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments website, in 2020, only about 17% of our waste was shipped out of state. But with the July 2022 closure of one of Connecticut’s largest incinerators, the Materials Innovation and Recovery Authority (MIRA), we’re now sending 40% of our trash to other states. This is referred to as Connecticut’s self-sufficiency deficit.

Sending trash out of state raises several issues as well. Trucking garbage to Pennsylvania or Ohio means a spike in disposal costs for towns, which will likely be passed onto taxpayers. Longer transportation routes create extra greenhouse gas emissions. And environmental justice problems arise when we pay to send our trash to someone else’s backyard.

As we send trash out of state, waste disposal fees are expected to skyrocket in the coming decades. Landfill space is finite, which means costs will increase as supply dwindles and demand grows. The CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and their consultant, Waste Zero, project that disposal costs could quintuple by 2050.

Sending our garbage out of state is a problem for all of us — we all pay for trash disposal through subscription haulers or municipal taxes.

CT DEEP has stated building more incinerators is not consistent with long-term plans for the state: CT DEEP’s Comprehensive Materials Management Strategy notes in several places that achieving “the state’s 60 percent diversion goal” involves “diverting materials from landfills and traditional combustion plants” including waste-to-energy. The CMMS later states “it is preferred that such [resource recovery] capacity take the form of waste conversion technologies as opposed to combustion-based waste-to-energy.” This aligns with an international shift away from waste-to-energy as a sustainable disposal method.

The state is looking at multiple solutions to this problem, including unit-based pricing which would charge a household for the amounts of bags of trash they produce rather than just a flat fee, with the hope of encouraging households to produce less waste and to recycle more. Many states and countries have already done unit-based pricing for trash.

Another recommended method is one that Newtown has already implemented — food scraps diversion. Using the orange bags, residents can separate out their food scraps, which are then composted at the transfer station.

Hopefully, as time goes on, these solutions or even new solutions will help curb the state’s current trash crisis. We wouldn’t want to eventually find ourselves imitating the 2006 movie Idiocracy, which featured a Great Garbage Avalanche.

Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. qstorm says:

    ‘Idiocracy’. GOOD ONE. So much of that film is appropriate today in this country. Couldn’t we just have burn barrels in our back yards?

  2. voter says:

    Funny story qstorm- Connecticut had 2 ‘burn barrels’ that were Trash-to-Energy plants in Hartford and Bridgeport. Not only did they dispose of trash, but they generated electricity. The problem: they needed significant funding from the state to be upgraded, and it was a hard pill to swallow while energy prices were on the downward trend (remember those days?). It’s not very fashionable to burn things either – CT can’t stand being on the wrong side of fashion. So, in the spirit of self-inflicted wounds, CT chose to close the plants instead of investing in the future. Ta-da! A double-pronged crisis! CT now has to export trash and import electricity. We’re now paying more for BOTH. The Lamont administration got that one seriously wrong. What’s their solution? Reduce your waste, reduce your energy usage, and pay more for both anyway.

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