Cleaning Up Connecticut's Waste

Amy Harrell

Would you like to see cleaner waterways, better recycling, and more green jobs? There are three important bills working through the Connecticut General Assembly that provide solutions for reducing waste and improving recycling. 

S.B. 1037: An Act Concerning (AAC) Solid Waste Management
Bottle redemption programs are a proven, effective means to reduce litter, and efficiently reclaim raw materials. Nationwide recycling data shows that states with bottle deposit programs on average achieve a recycling rate almost three times that of non-deposit states. Michigan and Oregon, for example, have reported 90% redemption rates. 

Connecticut’s bottle bill, however, has not been updated in decades and we are paying the price. Our state’s redemption rate has fallen to below 50%, which is the lowest anywhere in the world. This is a 37% drop from where Connecticut was 15 years ago. A languishing bottle redemption program means:

  • We face massive litter problems. The Connecticut River Conservancy states that bottles were the most common litter item in Connecticut’s rivers in 2019. 

  • Towns must pay to recycle the bottles left in curbside recycling bins. Municipalities are already cash-strapped with skyrocketing recycling costs, since China stopped accepting recyclables a few years ago.

  • Bottles recycled through single-stream programs are likely to be used as landfill. Single-stream recycling results in broken, mixed materials, which affects its value. Glass from these programs can cost as much as $95/ton to dispose of while clean, separated deposit glass, has an average positive scrap value of $20/ton – this is why it is so important to redeem your bottles instead of leaving them in the curbside bins.

  • Consumers are forfeiting money paid on deposits.

  • The failing bottle bill infrastructure creates little incentive to open redemption centers. This leaves consumers limited options for redemption.

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But there is good news! S.B. 1037 “AAC Solid Waste Management” has been introduced by the Environment Committee, and would modernize the bottle bill in a number of ways, including:

 

1. Expanding the program to cover more containers 

Connecticut could capture an additional 416 million containers each year, by expanding the program to include non-carbonated beverages, such as juices, teas, coffee, sports drinks, wine, liquor and hard cider. As initially drafted, S.B. 1037 includes nips, and will include all other wine and liquor containers by 2024.

2. Increasing the deposit to 10 cents

States with higher redemption rates have higher deposit amounts.  The current 5 cent deposit creates a weak incentive to recycle.

 

3. Increasing the handling fee

Handling fees are paid by the beverage distributor to a redemption center or retailer for each container collected. These fees are crucially important for keeping the bottle redemption infrastructure afloat.


 

H.B. 6502: AAC the Use of Certain Polystyrene Products, the Availability of Single-Use Straws, the Release of Certain Balloons and the Compostable Nature of Single-Use Produce Bags

Plastic is derived from fossil fuel, and 91% of the plastic we use is not recycled. Instead, it ends up clogging our waterways, littering the environment, and threatening our ecosystems. Polystyrene, balloons and single use plastic bags all pose serious threats to marine ecosystems and wildlife. Birds and aquatic animals can ingest these materials, eventually leading to poisoning or starvation. 

 

More than 11,000 tons of food-grade expanded polystyrene end up in Connecticut’s trash every year. The vast majority of those 11,000 tons are burned in Connecticut’s waste incinerators, like those in Bridgeport and Hartford. Burning polystyrene emits dangerous chemicals into the air. Plastic incineration also results in large-scale greenhouse gas emissions (CLF bill testimony).

 

H.B. 6502 would help reduce 1) the amount of plastic waste that is produced, 2) the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from plastic production, 3) plastic trash that is burned in toxic incinerators, and 4) plastic litter that suffocates our environment.

 

S.B. 930: AAC Food Waste Diversion and Anaerobic Digestion Facilities

Municipal waste is comprised of about 30% food scraps! Instead of burning or landfilling this organic waste, Connecticut should expand its options for composting food and other organic materials. 

 

S.B. 930 aims to do just that, by strengthening our commercial composting requirements. The bill would require food wholesalers, processors, grocers, conference centers, etc. to compost their food waste if they produce at least 52 tons per year of organic waste and are located within 40 miles of a large-scale composting facility. 

 

The bill also requires DEEP to establish a pilot program for any municipality seeking to compost their organics waste.

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Take Action!

Please urge your elected officials to support waste reduction bills! Tell them Connecticut cannot wait any longer to pass a modernized, expanded bottle bill and reduce the plastic and organics in our waste stream.

 

For more information:

Amy Harrell is a Sierra Club member and volunteer for the CT Bottle Works Coalition