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CT weighs solutions for a massive trash problem with no easy fix

Meriden Food Scrap Pilot
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Cody Talento, who works for the city of Meriden, separates bags of trash from bags of food scraps at HQ Dumpsters and Recycling in Southington, April 2022. The food waste will be taken to an anaerobic digester and turned into electrical energy and compost. About 1,000 households in Meriden have participated in a municipal food recycling pilot program. Experts and advocates say that separating out food will save money and help protect the environment.

Connecticut is considering new ways to handle its garbage since a major trash-burning plant closed. The proposed programs are a work in progress.

Last year’s closure of the MIRA trash plant in Hartford left a big gap in how the state handles getting rid of its waste. An estimated 40% of Connecticut’s garbage is sent out of state from lack of space, state officials said.

Now a state proposal calls for reducing waste, in part, through statewide composting. Katie Dykes, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), said more resources are needed to accomplish this.

“We have not sufficiently invested in collection programs and education programs to help make it easy for businesses and residents to be able to divert their food scraps,” Dykes said.

Grant money currently funds composting efforts in 15 state municipalities, Dykes said. Pilot food recycling programs, such as one in Meriden, have shown promising results. Through Gov. Ned Lamont’s related bill in the legislature, she’s seeking funding to broaden the program.

Widespread composting also has support from advocates, like Ann Gadwah, advocacy director at Sierra Club Connecticut.

She also said she wanted to see strengthened language for another aspect of the proposal: EPR plans or “extended producer responsibility.” Gadwah said her group wants strong state oversight over how companies manage their packaging and recycling.

“From the beginning, where you would make sure it was made sustainably, make sure it was made with recycled materials, to when it goes out into the public, and responsibility for bringing it back in should be either recycled or disposed of,” Gadwah said.

According to DEEP, 23% of municipal solid waste is paper goods and 12% is plastic.

A virtual public listening session on the state waste proposal is scheduled for Tuesday, March 14, at 10 a.m. DEEP will present an overview of the strategy and look for community input. Registration is required.

Michayla Savitt is a reporter at CT Public, with an interest in covering climate change and the environment. She was a newsroom intern for the station in summer 2022, but began her time there as a production intern for WNPR's local talk shows. Michayla is an alumna of the health & science reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Before that, she was a reporter/anchor for various radio outlets in New York state.