September 1, 2006
Column By RICK GREEN, Courant Staff Writer
Of course nobody talks about recycling. We're too busy stuffing the trash can.
As cities such as Seattle and San Francisco close in on or exceed 50 percent rates of recycling, here in the land of steady garbage habits, it is an anemic 30 percent. In many towns, the rule is, put out as many cans as you can fill.
In Hartford, where a swollen, stinking trash mountain greets visitors, the recycling figure is about 8 percent. Some rising star.
"It's terrible," Hartford's chief operating officer, Lee Erdman, acknowledged.
Walk around San Francisco - where they recycle over 60 percent of solid waste - and you'll find cans for paper and plastic, besides the usual trash barrel. This is a city where they will even give you a compost pail for your kitchen and pick up the waste at your curb. Not here.
"The recycling rates have either stagnated or stopped. We are too busy," C.J. May, president of the Connecticut Recyclers Coalition, who oversees recycling efforts at Yale University, told me.
"We have a crisis, but nobody sees it."
Some do. One day last month a handful of protesters showed up at the headquarters of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, which handles much of the region's trash and recycled materials.
"They should be helping us to figure out how to recycle," said Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, whose group says CRRA needs to do more to encourage recycling in urban areas before it can expand.
"We spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on education to try and get people more informed," said CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher. "We are doing everything we can."
I doubt it. It's Hartford's job, but doesn't CRRA have some additional responsibility to make sure recycling works in the city where its dump and trash plant is located?
This is hardly a Hartford problem. Many towns don't have full-time recycling coordinators anymore. Some trash haulers don't even bother with recycling.
One possible answer is charging people more if they put out more trash, a practice called "pay-as-you-throw." In Philadelphia, they go further: They pay people to recycle.
Recycling "is really been very much of a dead issue. The support at the Department of Environmental Protection has pretty much dissolved," said Virginia Walton, recycling coordinator in Mansfield, where nearly 40 percent of household waste is recycled.
That could change if a proposal by DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy isn't skewered by industry lobbyists during the next legislative session. McCarthy's department proposes an aggressive long-term strategy aimed at bringing our recycling rate to 49 percent by 2024.
The DEP wants more money for enforcement and to create incentives such as pay-as-you-throw. The DEP plan would increase the bottle deposit and require more items, such as restaurant food scraps, to be recycled or composted.
"You have got to provide financial incentives. It's the single biggest element that drives recycling," said Robert Haley, Zero Waste manager for the city and county of San Francisco, where the goal is to recycle or compost all waste by 2020. "If you don't have a goal and provide the resources you are not going to make progress."
We're no San Francisco, but we're talking trash, not cable cars. Hartford, CRRA and the state can do better.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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