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Burning less trash

Published April 05. 2014 4:00AM

About 30 years ago, Connecticut began an innovative plan to deal with solid waste. Landfills across the state were leaching contaminants. The burial approach for the state's trash was wasteful and dangerous.

The solution was the opening of several "trash-to-energy" plants across Connecticut. Rather than burying its garbage, Connecticut began burning it to create electricity. Recognizing garbage could not compete with other sources of fuel, the state mandated utilities pay a higher rate for the power generated by the incinerators. Combined with a fledgling recycling program, the new approach allowed the state to close and cap the landfills.

Now it is time for another innovative approach. A bill proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration would rename and repurpose the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA), the quasi-public agency charged with coordinating the trash-to-energy program.

Becoming the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, its focus would shift from burning trash to recycling it. The agency, which has become bloated and wasteful, would see staff cut from 70 to a maximum of 45 employees.

The Hartford incinerator, the state's largest under CRRA's jurisdiction, would, if financially feasible, be redeveloped for such uses as recycling services or the processing of organic materials for reuse. The agency would seek proposals from solid waste companies.

Another proposal contained in the proposed bill is an ambitious updating of the state's solid waste management plan with a goal of recycling 60 percent of Connecticut's waste by 2024. That is an ambitious target - the state has been stuck on a recycling rate of about 30 percent for many years - but aiming high is the right approach.

With a concerted effort, Connecticut can improve its recycling significantly. According to a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection analysis, 27 percent of waste now sent to incinerators is organic material, 26 percent is paper, 22 percent plastic, metal or glass.

It is time for Connecticut to recycle more and burn less.

There will still be a need for trash-to-energy plants, and the Covanta facility in Preston appears well positioned for this new future. Since 1992, the incinerator has operated under a contract with the Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority, the quasi-public agency for the 12 towns that bring about 689 tons of trash per day to the facility

Discussions have begun over a new 25-year contract to replace the one that will expire in 2017. Plant operators want to diversify to include recycling - handling electronic waste, bulky waste, expired pharmaceuticals and compostable materials.

The legislature should approve the Recycling and Materials Management Strategy bill and set a new course for handling the state's waste.

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