Submitted by Joanne Nesti, Haddam Sustainability Committee
(April 29, 2022)—“Out of sight, out of mind” will not work any longer when it comes to the way Connecticut disposes of its trash, according to a top official at the state’s trash authority. Thomas Gaffey, Director of Recycling and Enforcement for MIRA (Materials Innovation and Recovery Authority), met with the Haddam Sustainability Committee on April 27th at the Old Town Hall to outline where Connecticut has been and, more important, where it’s going, since landfills are closing and the state’s waste-to-energy plants are aging.
Gaffey described what he called “a garbage crisis” for Connecticut and New England, with many states facing the same problem of more trash and fewer places to put it. MIRA operates an aging waste-to-energy facility in Hartford that will be closing in the next few months. The state has opposed any renovation to the facility, in part because of the cost, and in part because of opposition from the City of Hartford. In addition, MIRA has a recycling plant about a mile down the road that, until recently, sorted through the tons of plastic, paper, cardboard, glass and aluminum that come in each day from MIRA’s member towns, including Haddam. Now, under a contract with Murphy Road Recycling (MRR), MIRA has those recyclables transported from its Hartford site to MRR’s Berlin recycling plant, which is completing a $20 million retrofit with state-of-the-art equipment.
Both facilities have been good businesses, with a market for most of the recyclables, and the trash-to-energy plant generating electricity that MIRA sells as one of its revenue sources. The other source is the “tipping” fees it charges member towns, but only for garbage. Recyclables are handled at no cost to the municipalities, but the days of business as usual are about to end. Our fees are about to rise.
In order to deal with the “crisis” he referred to, Gaffey says a million tons of Connecticut trash will soon be transported, by either truck or rail, to landfills in several states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and others that see trash from the northeast as revenue for their state coffers. Gaffey calls this an expensive option and one that is not very environmentally-friendly, with trucks and trains powered by fossil fuels that pollute the air and expand our carbon footprint. The shipping of trash is also vulnerable to weather, train derailments, highway accidents and other unforeseen obstacles along the way. Gaffey adds that the state remains responsible for trash getting to its final destination, so any delays that disrupt the flow could cause trash to back up in Connecticut until the process starts moving again.
What is the solution? We start with our own homes and the way we handle garbage and recycling. Take a look at what you’re buying, the packaging it comes in and how you’ll dispose of it. Recycle only what is recyclable. As simple as that sounds, Gaffey has dozens of stories of people tossing ridiculous items into their recycling: bowling balls (yes, bowling balls!) saw blades, hoses, etc. What are people thinking? Gaffey calls it “wishful recycling,” making the generous assumption that people want to do the right thing, but don’t know how. The Haddam Sustainability Committee has started a program at the transfer station of food scrap waste collection, as well as textiles that can be recycled. Electronics and batteries have long been a separate collection at the Transfer Station. But if you don’t have a Transfer Station pass, we also have set up an area in the Town Office Building for other recyclables, like plastic bags, batteries, light bulbs, etc. Check out our small corner spot to the left as you come in the front door. You can find out more about the Committee at Haddamsustainabilitycommittee@gmail.com.
Education is the key for all of us, but one small town in Connecticut can’t do it alone. Some of this will have to be dealt with at the state and federal levels, and that is always a challenge. Still, it all starts with us and the way we take responsibility for the waste we generate. “Out of sight, out of mind” is about to become “out of state,” but that’s a solution we cannot sustain.