Rep. Joe Gresko Credit: Mike Savino photo

The Connecticut House of Representatives Wednesday approved the creation of a stewardship program to oversee the collection and recycling of used tires. 

Proponents of the bill said the stewardship would force the tire industry to handle Connecticut’s problems with the illegal dumping of used tires. 

They also hope it will help boost demand for recycled rubber, including pushing the Department of Transportation to use more tire-derived asphalt. 

“I know some people in the industry don’t like it, but we’re going to give it a try,” House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, who’s been pushing the bill for several years, said. “If it doesn’t work, if we’re not recycling more tires, we can always revisit it.” 

But many Republicans raised concerns that the bill would interfere with the current system for collection without addressing any of the environmental or health concerns that come with recycled rubber. 

“The way I read the bill has nothing to do with environmental improvement, but it has everything to do with legislative interference with commerce,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford. 

The bill, which garnered a 101-43 vote, now heads to the Senate. 

If approved, the bill would require all tire manufacturers to create a stewardship program to collect old tires and oversee their disposal or recycling in a way that’s “technologically feasible and economically practical.” 

The state currently has two facilities that accept old tires and turn them into crumb rubber. Currently, retailers charge a $5 fee to customers to accept and dispose of old tires. 

But Rep. Joseph Gresko, D-Stratford, and co-chairman of the legislature’s Environment Committee, said the state doesn’t track how much money is collected and whether tires are actually disposed of properly. 

Municipalities have complained about the illegal dumping of tires, which can create fire hazards or breeding grounds for mosquitoes. 

Rep. Doug Dubitsky Credit: Mike Savino photo

Gresko said the bill not only forces the tire industry to deal with the problem, it creates accountability. The bill requires the tire stewards to fund the program using the current $5 disposal fee. 

“Those tires that were supposed to be on the back of the truck and go to their destination need to be accounted for before the hauler gets their money,” he said. 

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities supports the stewardship, but so did the Tire Industry Project, a group of 10 top tire producers, Gresko also said. 

Some House members said the bill is not a perfect solution, but called it an attempt to address an ongoing problem. 

“We’ve been going around in a circle for far too long, and we’re at the point now where we have to do something,” Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, a member of the legislature’s Environment Committee.

Still some Republicans weren’t convinced. 

Candelora said most retailers are already following the current program. He’s worried the stewardship would limit retailers’ options. 

“It seems to me if it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “But here we want to be the first in the country to interject a stewardship program that is going to tell Town Fair Tire and other tire dealers to send their tires for recycling.” 

Gresko said the illegal dumping shows the state needs a new way to prevent the dumping now. On top of the environmental problems, municipalities often get stuck with the disposal. 

“When the tires are illegally dumped in your municipality and your municipality has to get them carted away, they have to pay a second time,” he said. “And they pay the tire industry.”  

Rep. Doug Dubitsky, R-Chaplin, who’s district includes Plainfield-based Crumb Rubber Manufacturers, said the recycling process would be easier if there was a market for the products created from disposed tires. 

“We have a problem with tires in Connecticut, and our biggest problem is there’s for them,” he said. “There’s no market for used tires.” 

The bill expands a DOT pilot program testing the use of asphalt made from tires, allowing the product to be used on primary roads. The program is currently limited to secondary roads. 

The bill was amended Wednesday so that the definition of recycling included the practice of burning shredded tires to create energy.  A previous version banned the practice. 

No such facility exists in Connecticut, but some retailers send tires to Maine for burning. Some Democrats opposed the amendment, pointing to studies linking the practice to cancer and other health issues. 

“Connecticut has a problem, but we shouldn’t be passing that problem on to Maine and the workers and families there,” Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven,  said.

Gresko had concerns the language violated constitutional protections for each state to set its own laws. Democrats ultimately voted unanimously for the bill even after the amendment was included.