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Connecticut's Window of Opportunity to Do the SMART Thing on Waste Management

Susan Eastwood

Connecticut’s urban communities of color are burdened with pollution from traffic congestion, aging housing, toxics from manufacturing, and the dumping of the state’s trash to be incinerated in their neighborhoods. The aging Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) waste incinerator in Hartford is a prime example.


On July 15, Governor Lamont and Commissioner Dykes of DEEP held a press conference to announce that DEEP has rejected an application from MIRA for the state to provide the $330 million for renovations to the existing trash-to-energy plant in Hartford. This confirms that Connecticut’s leadership is committed to moving forward with innovative ways to reduce and dispose of our waste in cleaner ways that are sensitive to the needs and health of all our communities. The press conference was held at Blue Earth Composting, pointing to one way towards accomplishing these goals. 


The impending closure of the Hartford trash incinerator may present a dilemma for Connecticut’s waste management, but it is a real opportunity to implement zero waste methods that can reduce the amount of waste by up to 90%. In Connecticut, food waste and other organics make up about 33% of the waste stream. This can be eliminated by diverting organics into composting or anaerobic digestion facilities. Another forty percent of trash can be captured by improved recycling efforts. Further reductions can be made by educating individuals in ways to use less, or disincentivizing with “Save Money And Reduce Trash (SMART)” policies. Manufacturers can be influenced to be more responsible with product stewardship laws and public pressure. 


Our legislature has many ways to incentivize recycling and zero waste. A good start would be to pass the proposed Bottle Bill upgrade. This would take up to 400 million bottles out of the waste stream annually and if the bill is amended to include wine and liquor bottles, 60% of the glass normally tossed. 


Photo: A landfill in Danbury, Connecticut

Photo credit: United Nations Photo on Flickr

The remaining trash must be dealt with. Landfills do leak, but newer barriers are much better than in the past. Even trucking trash to out-of-state landfills, while not a palatable solution, is less damaging to the environment than incineration. Incinerators are extremely toxic, emitting nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2),  and ozone-depleting CFC-11. The burning process produces dioxin and benzene in both the emissions and the ash. They burn materials that contain highly toxic metals, including cadmium, mercury, and lead, as well as synthetic chemicals, like PFAS, that have many serious health impacts including cancers and birth defects. Thus, there is a high concentration of toxins in the ash, which must still be trucked to a landfill.


The closure of Hartford’s waste incinerator gives us a chance to plan for a cleaner future with less waste and pollution, to the benefit of all, especially to Hartford residents whose health is impacted daily by the dirty incinerator fumes. Now is the time for us to work together to promote zero waste in our towns and state!


Susan Eastwood is longtime Sierra Club member, and an ExComm member who serves on the Political Committee in our Connecticut Chapter.

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