Connecticut Recycling Leaders Call for Increased Effort to Get to Zero Waste

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Evan Preston

New ConnPIRG Report Makes Case for Zero Waste

ConnPIRG Education Fund

After a year that saw the passage of a first in the nation Mattress Recycling Law, the creation of a Recycling Market Development Council, and expanded requirements for diverting organic material from our waste stream, leaders from Connecticut’s recycling community gathered in Hartford to celebrate Connecticut’s progress and call on local and state decision-makers to set even higher goals to achieve zero waste.  Environment Committee Co-Chair Senator Ed Meyer, Middletown Mayor Daniel Drew, and other recycling leaders joined the ConnPIRG Education Fund to release their new Report: “The Zero Waste Solution, How 21st Century Recycling and Trash Reduction can Protect Public Health and Boost Connecticut’s Economy.”

“We have much to be proud of over the last year,” said Senator Meyer, “but the fact remains that we can and must do much more to make Connecticut a national leader in recycling.” Connecticut’s statewide diversion rate – which accounts for all materials kept out of landfills and incinerators – has remained stagnant at around 30% over the last decade, lower than the national average and well below national leaders that are already above 50%.

The ConnPIRG Education Fund report highlights how Connecticut is over-reliant on incineration as a waste management strategy – burning more trash per person than any other state in the country.  Connecticut produces more than half a million tons of toxic incineration ash every year and is quickly running out of landfill space for the toxic ash.  As a result, we increasingly ship ash out of state, leaving Connecticut vulnerable to sudden price or policy changes beyond our borders.  Trash incineration is also expensive and a threat to public health: incinerators are the largest source of neuro-toxins like mercury and dioxin in Connecticut.

“Connecticut decided thirty years ago to transform our waste management strategy away from landfilling and towards incineration,” said ConnPIRG Education Fund Director Abe Scarr. “Now is the time to transform again, away from incineration and towards zero waste.”

Zero waste is increasingly being embraced as a waste management strategy and rests on the principle that we can use less in the first place, reuse more, and recycle and compost what’s left – sending nothing to landfills or incinerators.  Communities that have adopted zero waste policies, such as San Francisco and Nantucket, have increased their diversion rates to over eighty and ninety percent in less than a decade.  According to the most recent data available from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, only three Connecticut towns have achieved 50% diversion:  Middlebury, Darien, and Woodstock. 

Under the leadership of Mayor Daniel Drew and Recycling Coordinator Kim O’Rourke, Middletown has become an EPA-Designated “Zero Waste Community” and passed a City Council resolution supporting zero waste.  “I am proud of Middletown’s commitment to recycling, and call on city and town leaders across the state to join us in redoubling our efforts to waste less and recycle more,” said Mayor Drew.

Increasing recycling would be a boon to the Connecticut economy.  Recycling material rather than wasting it creates economic activity.  For example, Connecticut sent approximately 15,600 tons of #1 Plastic to incinerators or landfills in 2009, which could have been sold for somewhere between $4.4 and $12.5 million, depending on commodity prices at the time of sale.  Recycling also saves money for cities and towns, who saved somewhere between $45-$90 for every ton of material recycled rather than thrown away in 2010.

“Increasing recycling and reducing waste is a win-win for cities and towns,” said Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra. “It creates jobs and saves taxpayers money in disposal costs.” Mayor Segarra and the City of Hartford took a leadership role in passing the mattress recycling bill this spring, which should save the city over $200,000 a year in disposal costs.

The report makes a series of recommendations, some to be adopted on the state level, and some that cities and towns can adopt themselves.  Key recommendations include setting a statewide zero waste policy goal, building better infrastructure for recycling and reusing materials, and enforcing recycling laws already on the books.

“Zero waste is not a pipe dream,” concluded Scarr. “It’s Connecticut’s best strategy for our health and economic well-being.”