The New Green: Eliminating One Way Trash Flows
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 19, 2012 00:10
An estimated five pounds of waste is discarded per day for Connecticut residents. Currently we have a one–way trash flow that is woefully inefficient in resource use (there are methods for running a more efficient “closed-loop” system). Hopefully, someday the residents of Connecticut will enjoy an economy where they can enjoy products like food, electronics and books without generating excessive waste. We can actively work towards making that a reality, but in the meantime it is important to know just where our waste goes after we toss it.
Did you know that in Connecticut it is required by law that 25 percent of the state’s waste stream is recycled? Solid waste disposal facilities in the state will not accept glass food and beverage containers, used motor oil, vehicle (lead-acid) batteries, scrap metal, corrugated cardboard, newspaper, metal food and beverage containers, leaves, white office paper, nickel-cadmium batteries or grass clippings, as all of these items are mandated recyclables by state law. Many towns have added additional recyclable items. Almost every town in Connecticut belongs to one of 10 recycling regions, and all of the trash gets sent to one of five intermediate processing centers (ICPs) located in Stratford, Hartford, Danbury, Berlin and Groton. At the ICPs the recyclables are prepared for sale on the market (serving as raw material for post-consumer products).
If waste is not recycled or composted it ends up in one of the state’s six waste-to-energy facilities located in Hartford, Bristol, Bridgeport, Wallingford, Preston and Lisbon. These plants burn the trash to produce electricity, which is then sold to electric utility companies. Incineration reduces the weight of the trash by 75 percent and the ash produced is land filled, usually in another state.
The state government should be commended for its leadership in recycling and its attempts to use resources more efficiently. Connecticut is one of the few states where you can get a deposit for returning plastic bottles and aluminum cans. However, we must not get comfortable with the status quo because there is much room for improvement. A 25 percent recycling mandate really is not that high, and according to Connecticut’s Public Interest Research Group, “we burn more trash per person than any other state in the country, generating more than half a million tons of toxic ash every year.” And although burning trash to produce energy may seem like a cool idea, we must ask ourselves whether it is worth the cost of tremendous air pollution (including the release many known carcinogens such as dioxin into our cities). Other U.S. cities have banned plastic bags and water bottles, implemented composting services and mandated less product packaging. Can we do the same for Connecticut’s towns and cities?