By July 1, 2016, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is set to revise the state-wide solid waste management plan to include a strategy to divert, through source reduction, reuse and recycling, 60 percent of solid waste generated in Connecticut after January 1, 2026.
That figure is more than double the waste currently diverted from landfills.
Doubling the amount of waste that is recycled is an ambitious goal, but Connecticut has long been a national leader in its waste management policies. It pioneered the use of waste-to-energy incinerators to become a national leader in terms of landfill efficiency.
Whereas 65 percent of the nation’s wastes ends up in landfills, that figure is less than 20 percent in Connecticut.
When it comes to trash, the phrase “Out of sight, out of mind” is quite literal. People tend not to consider trash until it becomes “a problem.” Typically, the tipping point is breached when proposals are sought for new dumpsites, a non-issue in The Nutmeg State.
Which is why the State’s ambitions to modernize its waste management system, absent any near-term issues and crises, is all the more admirable.
Within Public Act 14-94 are proposals to replace aging incineration plants with facilities that use advanced technologies to convert trash into renewable energy and compost.
But, a more critical proposal in the Act is the establishment of the Recycle CT Foundation, a non-profit foundation to increase rates of recycling and reuse.
People, not just technology, have to modernize when it comes to garbage. They need to imagine garbage in its next life-form, and themselves as an important part of the recycling supply chain.
Tom Kirk, president and CEO of the Materials Innovation & Recycling Authority is hopeful that citizens will come to view waste less as garbage and more as useful material. The payoff may not be imminent, but recycling efforts will result in a circular infrastructure where materials are recovered, repurposed and used in the production of new items.
Consider the economic trail of recycling food. According to a DEEP study, about 14 percent of the state's waste stream includes discarded food. Rather than having it incinerated into ash residue, it can be used as feedstock to produce methane-derived electricity and soil amendments. The electricity can be sold to the local energy grid and the compost can get sold in bulk to farmers or in mulches to retail outlets.
Such infrastructures have been difficult to build because they require a great amount of planning and coordination among specific parties. They also suffer from a “chicken or the egg problem” when it comes to supply and demand.
If there was a large and unexpected uptick in organics recycling, there would not be enough currently permitted facilities to handle the volume. Conversely, developers of waste treatment plants do not want to invest in a new plant without assurances that they will be provided the raw material (recycled organics for instance) to turn into end products.
Progress cannot happen without solid local leadership to provide the trust that brings all parties together and keeps them moving forward.
Connecticut’s leadership is putting the policies and facilities in place to manage its waste for the next generation.
A glimpse into Connecticut’s future can be seen in neighboring Rhode Island. That state’s first anaerobic digester is set to open shortly. Using uneaten food as its primary feedstock, the facility uses a closed-tank fermentation process to create methane, a burnable gas, and a soil amendment. The methane will fuel generators that have a capacity to generate up to 3.2 megawatts of power.
The people of Connecticut can expect to see exciting projects like this as they take a fresh approach to trash.