MIRA trash-to-energy facility in Hartford’s South Meadows Credit: Christine Stuart photo / CTNewsJunkie

It’s official. After years of debate, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority ignited its last fire this week as the trash-to-energy facility in Hartford’s South Meadows neighborhood is prepared for decommissioning. 

MIRA President and CEO Tom Kirk said in a phone interview Wednesday that it was a confluence of events that led to this moment. 

The announcement follows debate over whether the state should help repair the facility, which was the last publicly owned trash-to-energy plant in the state and falling energy prices. 

Kirk said the sale of energy from burning the trash went from 12 cents a KWH to 3.5 cents a KWH. The sale of energy paid for about 40 to 50% of the operation of the plant and when that happened, the tipping fees for member towns increased. The facility began losing member towns who opted to send their trash out-of-state. 

“Over the past five or six years we struggled to keep the plant viable,” Kirk said. 

The state refused to borrow money to help keep it going until a more environmentally friendly alternative could be found. 

It means with no more landfill capacity in the state most, if not all, of Connecticut’s trash will be shipped to states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey and Virginia. 

“It’s regrettable,” Kirk said. 

What happens when those states decide to stop accepting Connecticut’s trash? 

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has said it is working to reduce the amount of state trash that will be sent to out-of-state landfills as a result of MIRA’s closure.

The agency said it is partnering with dozens of towns to explore alternative disposal options, including food waste recycling and composting. But no viable alternative will help divert the nearly 1 million tons of trash that used to arrive at the facility just a few years ago. 

Kirk said the MIRA towns remaining under contract will send about 65,000 tons of trash to transfer stations in Torrington and Essex, but that will also push those facilities to send an equal amount out-of-state. 

“In the meantime, I think most folks are opaque to the whole issue,” Kirk said. “It’s a giant step backwards.” 

He said there’s not a lot of pressure on state officials to regain a more progressive and sound focus on solid waste because other states are currently accepting Connecticut’s trash. 

“We should not count on Pennsylvania welcoming tons of trash,” Kirk added. 

The site is expected to take years to be decommissioned.