Newtown Joins Coalition For Sustainable Materials Management
In early September, Newtown became part of a coalition that local Public Works Director Fred Hurley believes will provide advantages for the community and all its cohorts statewide. Hurley, who also oversees local recycling and transfer station functions, said Newtown’s charter membership in the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management (CCSMM) will provide “clarity and transparency” when it comes to costs and protocols for disposing of household waste and recycling.
“The coalition started with a lot of interest and support from the HRRA itself,” he said, referring to the Housatonic Resource Recovery Authority — the regional municipal solid waste (MSW) and recycling management organization for the Housatonic Valley municipalities of Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Redding, Ridgefield, and Sherman.
Hurley said First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker of Bethel is serving as one of the coalition’s three co-chairs, along with Durham First Selectman Laura Francis, and State DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes.
“This came out of a culmination of frustrations on the part of cities and towns that don’t believe they can necessarily drive the direction of waste management control, whether it be recycling or municipal solid waste,” Hurley said. “The market is not necessarily competitive, and I suppose could actually be viewed as monopolistic. That often puts cities and towns, like ours, at the mercy of whatever arrangement the state can [negotiate] with the vendors they deal with.”
Hurley noted that when HRRA was searching for a new regional vendor to handle both MSW and recycling, only one emerged.
One of the first areas Hurley hopes will be addressed by the coalition, is coming up with a single vendor and a uniform cost program for waste oil disposal and recycling.
“A lot of towns have their own waste oil program, and they pretty much end up paying whatever the local vendor demands,” he said. “So we’ll be looking at ways for all these towns to band together to get a more cost effective response from services that get rid of waste oils.”
Aligning Best Practices
The Newtown Public Works boss said another fast-track plan is to develop a best practices guide for all participating towns, drawing from good management ideas that may only be working in a couple of communities.
Hurley described agencies arranging statewide waste processing contracts as “the tail wagging the dog.”
“As soon as the first state waste-to-energy plants were done, contracts and operations were [administered] by the state, and the vendors had no risk,” Hurley said. “And initially whatever profits the vendor was able to derive were not shared with the cities and towns involved. That has since changed, with the cost of tipping fees being adjusted based on how the market developed.”
He said now, towns and cities are now banding together under the coalition to apply more influence when the market changes, since it is those municipalities that “share the pain when the market goes up.”
According to Newtown’s sign-on agreement, “the residents and businesses of Connecticut deserve a waste system that: provides reliable disposal options at an affordable and predictable cost; advances our state’s leadership on sustainability; reduces adverse environmental impacts and disproportionate burden on certain communities in our state.
“As state and municipal leaders, we share a vision of an equitable, sustainable, affordable waste system, and are committed to advancing innovative solutions and supporting critical services needed to achieve that goal,” the agreement continues.
In the 40 years since Connecticut developed six waste-to-energy facilities, the document states that municipalities like Newtown “have been leaders in promoting new, innovative mechanisms for MSW disposal that advance the state’s waste hierarchy — from designating recyclable items, to hosting the first commercial-scale anaerobic digester, to unit-based pricing for disposal or pay-as-you-throw programs.”
But in 2016, the state’s output of MSW was so significant that approximately 100,000 tons per year of MSW were being sent for out-of-state disposal. And by 2018, that tonnage increased to approximately 400,000 tons — with corresponding costs escalating significantly and accruing down to all municipal taxpayers.
“We believe that now is the time to take a step forward, harnessing State and Municipal innovation and collaboration to spur action and investment in new programs and services that will achieve a more affordable, equitable, and sustainable waste system for our citizens,” the CCSMM document states.
Vision And Advancement
The collective vision is that this system will:
• Make substantial progress toward reducing several hundred thousand tons of generated MSW statewide by 2027.
• Promote opportunities for innovation, investment, and employment in Connecticut.
• Provide for predictable and (long-term) cost-effective options.
• Seek to minimize and mitigate impacts of waste infrastructure on overburdened communities.
To advance that future, participating CCSMM communities are committed to working together in this initiative to accomplish the following:
• Share experiences and lessons learned from various efforts to adopt effective waste reduction strategies.
• Engage market participants and local stakeholders to solicit input and proposed waste reduction solutions.
• Seek creative means to fund solutions that further the collective goal.
• Identify and evaluate a menu of options that municipalities and the state can adopt that will help CCSMM progress toward its goal.
• By January 1, 2021, report on CCSMM progress and announce commitments to action in furtherance of the group’s waste reduction vision.
By working together, CCSMM organizers and member communities believe they have the potential to achieve economies of scale while sending a strong signal for private investment and sector transformation. At the same time, the coalition respects the unique needs and policy preferences of each participating jurisdiction, and the importance of flexible approaches.
“We recognize that each municipality can contribute in different ways, through different measures, to achieve our shared goals,” the CCSMM statement concludes, mirroring the points being made by Hurley here in Newtown.
“The more information we have through this shared effort, the better we can deal with challenges related to MSW and recycling from an intelligent standpoint,” he said. “There is safety in numbers. I can’t imagine how Newtown would come out if we tried to negotiate our own waste disposal contract with one of these huge vendors — it’s just not going to happen.”