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The Future For Connecticut's Trash Remains Uncertain

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Cans at a MIRA recycling facility

After years of debate and study, the future of Hartford’s aging trash-to-energy facility is finally beginning to crystalize. And Connecticut’s trash future may end up looking a lot like a step into the past: sending garbage to landfills. 

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“We don’t like the choices we have, but wishing for better choices doesn’t make them appear,” said Tom Kirk, president of the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA).

MIRA recently submitted an operational plan to state officials, asking for $330 million to help refurbish the struggling plant in Hartford. That plant has been plagued by troubles in recent years, including several closures that caused trash to pile up outside.

But according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, the plan was years overdue and inadequate.

In a July 14 letter, DEEP asked for a revised plan and issued a pointedly worded media release: “State Rejects MIRA Plea for Hundreds of Millions in Subsidies for Hartford Waste Incinerator.”

“The concept of investing that kind of subsidy in a decades-old facility, decades-old technology, is in our view, really not moving us forward in terms of more sustainable solutions for our state,” DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes said during a news conference Wednesday morning. 

But Kirk said the Hartford trash-to-energy facility, which handles about one-third of the state’s trash, needs money now to stay online. MIRA has contracts to take trash from more than 50 Connecticut towns through 2027.

“Absent capital infusion it will shut down ... in the next couple of years,” Kirk said. “And we will have no option but to take the waste and put it on trucks and send it to other states for disposal in landfills.” 

In her response to MIRA, Dykes wrote that such an option was a “false choice.” And on Wednesday, both she and Gov. Ned Lamont said the time is now for a transition away from a decades-old model of waste to energy: burning trash. 

Lamont said he wants small businesses to step up with new ideas for sustainable waste management solutions. 

“This is a transition,” Lamont said. “... The more economies of scale we get, the more people doing this, the more we drive down the cost.”

“It’s good for the environment and also really good for the ratepayers. And if I don’t have to borrow 330 million bucks, that’s also really good for the taxpayers,” Lamont said.

But Kirk said those solutions won’t solve the state’s more immediate problem: what to do with hundreds of thousands of tons of trash. 

He said for the state’s volume of waste, solutions like food waste diversion don’t pencil out financially. And as Connecticut Public Radio has reported, the state has struggled for years to incentivize large-scale food waste diversion, despite tightening government regulation.

“There are options that work in the lab, that work in a prototype, and that even work on very small-scale facilities,” Kirk said. “But there are no solutions that will handle the thousands of tons a day that Connecticut will be faced with disposing of in a couple of years when the trash-to-energy plant in Hartford is no longer capable of operating.”

Kirk said he plans to write back to the state and wants to work with DEEP, but he’s not optimistic the Lamont administration will pay to renovate the aging Hartford facility. 

“I do not believe that we’ll be successful, unfortunately, given the comments and the positions that have been established by the governor and the DEEP in renovating the facility,” Kirk said.

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