Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Maybe there, but not here

You may have heard a story on NPR called "After Dump, What Happens To Electronic Waste?" which told the oft-told tale that electronics recycling isn't always what it seems.

Maybe that's true elsewhere, but not for residents of towns that rely on CRRA for electronics recycling. We contract with eco International, one of the nation’s electronics recycling leaders, to keep these items out of the waste stream. At its facility in Vestal, N.Y., eco International dismantles items into raw materials, such as copper, steel, aluminum, glass and plastic, and sells these materials to firms who turn them into new products.

eco International has signed the Basel Action Network Pledge of True Stewardship, an internationally recognized commitment to responsible recycling and has been audited by CHWMEG, Inc.; results of that audit can be reviewed on-line.

We're not saying this to brag, but merely to reassure you that we're doing everything we can to provide this service the right way.

We're also awaiting word that the statewide electronics recycling program being crafted by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection is ready to launch.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

We've inspired a holiday tree

There's a new holiday tree in the center of Stratford, and it's made from recycled materials.

Local business leaders got the idea in the spring at the grand opening of the Garbage Museum's first professional art exhibit. They saw how people react to Trash-o-saurus and wanted to create the same effect in their central business district.

You can read more here and here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Phone books on the verge of extinction?

Just noticed this item about the possibility of telephone directories being phased out.

One of the most frequent questions we're asked is about recycling of phone books. We can't accept them because the binding fouls our processing equipment. Telephone companies have blue barrels outside their offices and local switching equipment buildings for recycling the books.

Friday, November 5, 2010

And remember us?????

We couldn't help but notice this editorial headlined "Remember Renewable Energy?" in The New York Times the other day.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, three of the top 10 renewable energy producers in New England are trash-to-energy plants. Our own Mid-Connecticut Project facility is the fourth-largest in the six-state region.

Not only are we making electricity with a fuel supply that is endless (at least until someone waves a magic wand and turns this into a zero-waste society), it reduces by 90 percent the amount of landfill space we need for our solid waste.

And, in a 2002 letter, U.S. EPA Assistant Administrators Jeffery Holmstead and Marianne Lamont Horinko recognized the “vital role of the nation’s municipal waste-to-energy industry” and concluded that “these plants produce 2800 megawatts of electricity with less environmental impact than almost any other source of electricity.”

Just sayin'.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Our Museums' record summer

Green is hot. And it’s cooler than ever. At least in Connecticut.

This summer, more people visited the CRRA Trash Museum in Hartford and Garbage Museum in Stratford, and more people took part in their award-winning sustainability education programs, than in any other summer on record.

The table you see here tells the story. In July and August, almost 9,000 people turned to our Museums to learn about recycling, energy conservation, composting and other hot green topics. Over 3,100 people visited the Garbage Museum in the summer vacation months.

Year-to-date, we’re not far off the pace we set in 2008, when both Museums enjoyed record numbers.

We’re proud of our education programs, proud of our educators and confident that our efforts are making a difference in our environment.

By the way, have you become a fan of the Trash Museum or the Garbage Museum on Facebook?

Monday, August 30, 2010

We know there are fewer bottles being recycled, but are people really buying less bottled water?

Recently you may have heard or read that the state isn’t taking in as much money from unclaimed deposits on plastic water bottles as some officials had hoped.

In 2009 Connecticut expanded its bottle bill to put five-cent deposits on plastic water bottles, the same deposit Connecticut consumers pay on beer and soda bottles and cans. But where the bottlers and distributors keep the nickels from unredeemed beer and soda containers, the state would keep the unclaimed water deposits.

When the legislation was passed in 2009, state officials said they expected to take in $17 million a year in unclaimed water bottle deposits. At 20 bottles per dollar, that would have required 340 million bottles going unredeemed every year, out of estimated annual sales of more than 500 million bottles, a number used by both the state and the Container Recycling Institute, a bottle-bill proponent.

The expansion took effect on Oct. 1, 2009. While numbers for the full fiscal year (which ended June 30) are not yet available, in April it was reported that the state only collected $680,000 from January through March of 2010. That’s 13.6 million unredeemed bottles for those of you without a calculator handy.

As far back as 2007, CRRA had been warning of the unintended consequences of putting a deposit on water bottles – namely, the adverse impact it would have on curbside recycling. CRRA processes the recyclables collected from residents of 76 cities and towns at no cost to those towns. (Those same towns pay as much as $69 per ton to bring us their garbage, underscoring the fiscal benefits of recycling.)

The larger of our two recycling systems, the Mid-Connecticut Project, has an annual budget of about $1.4 million, all paid for by proceeds from the sale of paper, cardboard, aluminum, steel, glass and plastic we sort and bale at our recycling processing facility in Hartford. In fact, because the 64 Mid-Connecticut Project recycling towns continue to increase their recycling rate, they’ve generated enough revenue to allow us to pay them rebates in 2008 and 2009. (We don’t have final figures for this year yet.)

That’s all good news. But the situation could have been even better, because it appears people have dramatically reduced their purchases of bottled water. How do we know? If the state is collecting fewer unredeemed deposits than it anticipated, then if consumers are buying the same number of bottles, CRRA and other recyclers should be seeing more.

However, our Mid-Connecticut system saw a substantial dropoff in the amount of polyethelene (PET, or #1 plastic), the material of which water and soda bottles are made, starting last October. Consider: in the nine months before the expansion took effect, we processed and shipped about 223 tons per month of PET. In the first nine months after the expansion, we processed and shipped about 156 tons per month, a 30-percent drop.

This chart shows those month-by-month figures. The dropoff hit in October 2009, exactly when the expansion hit.

The 67 tons of plastic represents about 29 million fewer bottles purchased in Mid-Connecticut towns. Extrapolated over the population of the entire state, that’s about 90 million fewer water bottles in those nine months – far more than the difference between what the state anticipated and what actually happened.

More to the point, that loss of plastic hurts curbside recycling, which, as we said earlier, depends on revenues from sales of recycled materials. In June, a ton of #1 plastic fetched about $400 on the commodities market. Commodity prices fluctuate, but even at $300 per ton those 67 tons per month cost the Mid-Connecticut system just under $250,000, or almost one-fifth of the entire year’s budget.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Marion launches a revolution?

We introduced you to our friend Marion, who was concerned about all the paper her children brought home from school and whether their school recycled.

Now comes this story from Southborough, Mass., with a parent voicing a similar question.

Here in Connecticut, the standard state science curriculum includes an Earth Science component, usually in Grades 4 and 6. In many schools, that component includes a trip to either our Garbage Museum in Stratford or our Trash Museum in Hartford, where our educators get students excited about recycling, teaching them that a lot of seemingly small actions can add up to a big positive impact on our environment.

It's frustrating to find out that some schools aren't always reinforcing this message.

Parents: do your schools recycle?

Teachers and administrators: do your schools recycle?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A sober look at trash-to-energy

The New York Times this week spent a good deal of bandwidth on the merits of trash-to-energy.

On Monday, The Times published a story headlined "Europe Finds Clean Energy in Trash, but U.S. Lags" that described the use of trash-to-energy in Denmark.

According to the story:
Their use has not only reduced the country’s energy costs and reliance on oil and gas, but also benefited the environment, diminishing the use of landfills and cutting carbon dioxide emissions. The plants run so cleanly that many times more dioxin is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration.

The story cites a study done by EPA and North Carolina State University that determined trash-to-energy is much more environmentally-responsible than landfilling.

On Tuesday, The Times's online edition kicked off a discussion entitled "Should the U.S. Burn or Bury Its Trash?"

The discussion ventured into the ideas of zero-waste and massive recycling systems as practiced in Japan and some European nations. These are both worthy ideals, but most Americans want convenience -- even if it costs a little more -- and these systems aren't convenient enough.

Connecticut's solid waste hierarchy, as established in Sec. 22a-228b of the Connecticut General Statutes, has led to Connecticut's recycling about 25 percent of its solid waste. There's certainly room for improvement with some reasonable steps -- more processing infrastructure to cut down on transportation costs, help for communities that want to switch to single-stream recycling and automated collection but can't afford the capital investment, more enforcement of the state's recycling laws and regulations -- but even with all these steps, until we get to zero-waste we're still going to have garbage to get rid of. Trash-to-energy really is the best option.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Ash Landfills: Someone’s Gotta Have Them

Kendra Richardson wrote this piece for her Magazine Journalism course at the University of Connecticut:

Ash landfills are necessary in Connecticut, whether residents like it or not. These landfills, a disposal site for what’s left after garbage is incinerated, are not developed until the state Department of Environmental Protection has ensured they met environmental standards. Yet the idea of dumping ash is a scary concept for residents who live near the sites.

On March 26, 2008, the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority announced it had chosen Franklin as the site for a new ash landfill. The small town is located in the “Last Green Valley” of northeastern Connecticut.

The CRRA chose a 350-acre site in Franklin, of which approximately 90 acres would be used as the actual landfill. The remaining acres would act as a buffer between the landfill and the surrounding residential area.

Residents of Franklin quickly protested, and now the CRRA has announced it will suspend its efforts to develop the landfill. However, a need remains since the Hartford landfill has reached capacity and closed down in late 2008 after 64 years of operation.

Connecticut now has one active ash landfill in Putnam. This is privately owned by Wheelabrator Technologies Incorporated. According to Robert Jacques, Wheelabrator’s Manager of Business Development, the landfill has space to accommodate ash for 17 years. However, according to Paul Nonnemacher, the CRRA’s Director of Public Affairs, the estimated 17 years may be correct, but not exactly accurate.

Wheelebrator’s Putnam landfill accommodates space for out-of-state plants that bring their ash in. Nonnemacher said that after nine years the landfill will have reached its capacity with in-state ash and that the remaining eight years is reserved for out of-state plants. Nonnemacher said, “Whatever is there [Putnam] is a short term solution, to a very long term problem. Garbage is not going to go away, and Putnam is not the best solution.”

This leaves Connecticut with unresolved trash problems. Why wasn’t an ash landfill installed in Franklin? In order to answer this question a person needs to understand the disposal process.

Connecticut is one of the approximately 30 states in the U.S. that uses an alternative energy process for waste disposal. There are six plants currently running in Connecticut. Ash, the non-combustible residue left after incineration, has been dumped in Hartford or Putnam for years. Its wet consistency means it does not blow in the wind and residents of the surrounding area in Putnam have never had a problem with it.

Jessica Wilson, a resident of Woodstock who lives on the Putnam town line, said, “I have never had a problem with the landfill, it never really even comes up in town news. All I know is it brings in money for the town of Putnam. I’ve never even noticed trucks carrying ash.”

Correct she is —— the landfill does bring Putnam money. The landfill is expected to bring in almost $3 million this year.

The ash that is left from the incineration process, which is about 70 to 80 percent less by volume than before, must go somewhere. That is where the landfill comes in. Trucks carry the ash from the incinerator to a landfill, where the ash is dumped into a massive pool-like deposit area.

When Franklin residents caught wind of the CRRA’s plan to start testing the proposed site for the landfill, the town went into an uproar. Residents started a campaign called “Dump the Dump.” Even months after the plan was squashed, yellow signs appear plastered on nearly every family’s front lawn reading, “DUMP the DUMP! Keep Franklin Green and Clean.” Many residents were determined to stop an ash landfill from being developed.

Residents expressed legitimate fears. Their fears included a traffic increase on Route 32, the possibility of the landfill leaking, hundreds of acres of the beautiful country land being ruined, toxins flowing into the air and into their drinking supply, the threat to biodiversity, and archeological history being destroyed. They said it could lower property value as well, and raise unknown environmental concerns.

Nonnemacher believes residents concerns were unfounded.

“I would not feel bad [to have such a facility near his house] because I understand how these things are built, engineered and operated. And so, if they found a site that met the criteria, I wouldn’t have a problem with it,” he said. “Even if I lived next door, I wouldn’t have a problem with it because I know enough about them.”
Nonnemacher said however that while these fears were genuine, they simply were not backed up by factual information. He said the potential of a double-lined landfill leaking was slim to none.

“The facts and the science indicate there was no cause for concern here,” he said, “Nobody else had ever monitored the groundwater [before we had]. DEP would not let us build there if there was any indication that there were any possibility chemicals could get into their drinking water. No cause for concern on this score either.”

The ash landfill would have three layers of plastic liners, two layers of clay liners, would sit more than five feet away from the ground water, and two wells would monitor on opposite ends of structure. Also, the DEP requires that ash landfills are built adjacent to a Class-B river or stream, thus making the Shetucket River a very viable option. The DEP would prohibit a landfill from being built anywhere near a body of water that was used for drinking.

Nonnemacher said Windham once operated an ash landfill that has since closed down, but remains unlined. He said water flows under this unlined ash landfill upstream from the Franklin site, and into the Shetucket River where swimming and fishing is permitted. There have been no ill effects from old ash landfill and the DEP has not deemed the fish unsafe to consume. Yet, there is still a huge objection to a safer, new ash landfill.

Another main concern is destruction of the land. Of the 695,000 acres in the Last Green Valley, 90 of that would be transformed to accommodate the landfill. The CRRA assured residents that only those acres would be excavated and the remaining would be left in its natural state. The Putnam landfill, in accordance, has walking trails and paths that the town has maintained since it opened. The CRRA also speculates that since there is a reasonable amount of gravel underneath the Franklin property, there is a good chance a mining operation could be installed. If this were the case—the excavation would far exceed that of the CRRA’s.

In May of 2009, Wheelabrator held a 10th-anniversary celebration for visitors who were interested in learning more about the site. According to an article in the Norwich Bulletin, residents were provided with charts and graphs to help them understand the intricate process of the landfill. They were also given samples of honey made by the on-site beehives, and flower seeds that were grown there, as well. Author James Mosher said, “former skeptics were won over.”

Johanne Boisvert, a resident who lives only miles from the Putnam ash landfill, said the site is “perfect for walking your dogs, it's peaceful and quiet. I don’t think many people even know the walking trials are on the site of a landfill.”

Now that there is no potential for an ash landfill in Franklin, residents have suggested the CRRA begin to look elsewhere. The conundrum lies in where else the state should put the landfill. The CRRA says it did extensive research and Franklin was absolutely the best place. The Franklin residents have also suggested the CRRA try to find another spot. If an ash landfill is unacceptable in their town, however, why would other towns want them? Franklin residents are offering ideas that are really not a solution.

After the plan was squashed, the CRRA went back and checked all of its work and checked if there were any other potential sites in Connecticut. Nonnemacher said, “we sent a letter to every town in Connecticut except Franklin and asked them if they may happen to know a site that would be suitable for one. A couple of towns did offer sites, but they didn’t meet all the criteria.”

Nonnemacher said they contacted Cheshire, Conn., but it was “just an effort to make sure we didn’t overlook anywhere.” He said CRRA is shopping for privately owned landfills.

Since the Hartford landfill closed, the CRRA has been sending ash to privately owned companies, which has increased in price by 14 percent. Sending the ash out of state would cost Connecticut taxpayers even more money.

For right now, Nonnemacher urges Connecticut to recycle as much as possible as they try to figure out the best solution to this problem.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A wildlife habitat on top of a landfill?

Seems the New York Times has just found out what we've known in Hartford for years -- that landfills can be significant bird habitats.

Today's story talks about bird-watchers enjoying a new park on top of the old Fresh Kills Landfill. For years, members of the Hartford Audubon Society have been visiting the Hartford landfill as part of its summer and Christmas bird counts.

The Hartford landfill, after 68 years of service, accepted its last deliveries of waste on December 31, 2008. Now we're eagerly awaiting the City of Hartford's plans for its use once its capping is completed in the next couple of years.

Friday, January 15, 2010

More plastics? Not just yet

You've probably heard by now that CRRA will soon be accepting all types of plastic at its Mid-Connecticut Project recycling facility.

However, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, it's not happening just yet. The company manufacturing the equipment we need has informed us that we won't have the equipment until later this winter, so as of now we're hoping to begin accepting these additional materials in early spring. We'll keep you posted.

And also remember that this will only apply to residents of those 64 towns that send their recyclables to our Mid-Connecticut facility. Check this list; if your town is marked with an asterisk, or does not appear at all, your hauler or local public works department can tell you what you can and can't recycle.

Monday, January 11, 2010

NBC-Connecticut on single-stream recycling

NBC-Connecticut's Ryan Hanrahan just took a look at CRRA's single-stream recycling and, more importantly, its success.

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/video.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On your radio

CRRA's Paul Nonnenmacher joined Mike Paine of Paine's Recycling & Rubbish Removal on Tuesday's "Colin McEnroe Show" on WNPR-FM.

You can listen to a podcast of the show . And here's Colin's blog posting about the program.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Congratulations, Diane!

A tip of the hat to our friend, Diane Vasseur, who has just become chairwoman of the Milford Environmental Concerns Coalition. Diane has been a big supporter of the sustainability education programs CRRA offers through the Garbage Museum and the Trash Museum.

Good luck, Diane!