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

Connecticut’s only trash-to-energy plant was shuttered last summer, prompting state officials to come up with a solution to the hundreds of thousands of tons of trash now being shipped out of state.

It’s an issue lawmakers planned on tackling this session, but it’s still a problem in search of a solution. 

At the moment, Connecticut is shipping more than 860,000 tons of municipal solid waste to out-of-state facilities annually. Everyone agrees this is neither sustainable or environmentally responsible in the long run, but no one we spoke to believes they will be able to solve the problem within the next year. 

Using the shuttered Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority plant as a backdrop Gov. Ned Lamont said Tuesday that he wants to explore Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) for packaging. That would require the producers of all types of packaging to take responsibility for the waste materials generated from their products, incentivizing greater recyclability and reuse of materials.

Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes said it would save taxpayers an estimated $50 million in recycling expenses and reduce Connecticut’s “self-sufficiency” deficit by up to 190,000 tons annually by 2028 when the program is fully implemented.

Sen. Norm Needleman, D-Essex, who is all for improving the environment and finding sustainable solutions for trash removal, isn’t sure how exactly the administration plans to make that work. 

“Somewhere someone’s going to pay more,” Needleman, a pragmatist, said. 

And it’s going to take years to implement and still leave the state with 400 to 500 million tons of trash it has to manage. 

“I think that there’s some element where we want to train future generations and manufacturers to be more aware of the packaging they create,” he added. 

He said he doesn’t like shipping trash out-of-state and it’s not a good long-term strategy, but the state still has to work on looking at new technologies to get rid of it.

Lamont also proposed accelerating organic resume and diversion to get an additional 185,000 tons per year of food waste out of the solid waste stream by 2023. 

Last year the state awarded nearly $5 million to 15 municipalities and three regional groups looking for ways to divert things like food scraps from the waste stream. 

Julie Cammarata, principal of Cammarata Affairs, said the main component of municipal solid waste is food waste and by eliminating that, which is mostly water, would go a long way to solving Connecticut’s trash problems. 

“The question is: who has the stomach to push through the underbelly of these issues?” Cammarata asked. 

She said changing consumer behavior will be difficult. She acknowledged there are challenges to these types of long-term solutions, but felt what the Lamont administration announced Tuesday was a good start. 

Needleman also was on board with the administration’s plans, but he acknowledged that Connecticut isn’t going to get to zero waste. 

The administration’s plans didn’t any proposal for any new trash-to-energy facility. 

Needleman said he’s an environmentalist, but that it’s not realistic to say there doesn’t need to be some type of solution. 

“How many hours have we spent discussing plastic straws when our waste system fell apart,” Needleman said. 

It’s not going to be put back together overnight. 

“Exploring better technology, food waste diversion, and less packaging are great starting points as we pivot from shipping our waste to out-of-state landfills,” Rep. Joe Gresko, D-Stratford, said.