Community Groups Mixed About Approaches To Hartford Recycling Facility Changes
January 11, 2007
By ADAM BULGER, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
A spokesman for Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, the quasi-public agency that controls the fate of much of Connecticut’s waste products, seemed puzzled at the response to the proposed change to Hartford recycling facilities.
“I’m really surprised when I hear of someone who’s not in favor of more recycling,” CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnemacher said.
Currently, CRRA owns two recycling centers in the south of Hartford. They have applied for a license from the state Department of Environmental Protection to merge the two facilities, which would increase the amount of materials they are able to recycle, and reportedly increase the overall daily recycling capacity by 350 tons. Currently, the daily recycling capacity of the two plants combined is 1170 tons. Nonnemacher characterized it as a centralizing of recycling centers.
“We’re bringing everything under one roof. Right now, we have a paper facility in one place, and container equipment was housed in another facility. We want to bring it all together under one roof, at 211 Murphy Road,” Nonnemacher said.
According to a recent study by the state DEP, Connecticut will have to increase its recycling rate from 30 percent to 58 percent to keep pace with increasing amounts of waste and changing lifestyles projected for the next 20 years. And while CRRA is not a for-profit organization, recycling is increasingly becoming an extremely profitable business.
“Aluminum is very profitable and always has been. Plastic has been very profitable lately. Right now, China is taking a large amount of plastic and paper,” Connecticut DEP Recycling Program Environmental Analyst Judy Belaval said.
Opponents of the expansion say Hartford is carrying too much of the burden for the region’s waste. Hartford currently hosts the landfill, the waste-to-energy facility and two recycling facilities, all of which handle materials from one million people in 70 state municipalities.
Mark Mitchell, the director for Hartford-based environmental group the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, says that while Hartford is put at risk by hosting numerous waste facilities, CRRA insufficiently compensates the city for hosting the sites.
“We oppose the recycling expansion primarily because they’re not proposing to increase recycling in Hartford,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said that while Hartford hosts the recycling facility, which services the waste of 70 towns, the city has the second worst recycling rate in the state. Mitchell wants CRRA to take more initiative to encourage recycling in Hartford.
Partially, the low recycling rate is due to laws. The city isn’t responsible for the recycling in residential buildings in Hartford with more than six units. Landlords and building owners have no incentive to implement recycling programs. Other factors about the city limit the recycling rate as well.
“People are a little more transient than they may be in suburban areas, so there’s a need for more education about what you can put out and what you can’t. It’s more labor intensive and there hasn’t been the effort made for education,” said Linda Bayer, staff consultant for city community advocacy alliance Hartford 2000.
Mitchell said he and his group don’t disagree with the existence or expansion of the recycling center itself — recycling facilities aren’t inherently toxic to their surroundings.
The way the waste is delivered to the facility is a matter of concern for CCEJ, however. The garbage trucks run on diesel gas, which Mitchell said is a highly pollutant fuel.
“We have no objections to modernizing the facility at all. There are about 400 to 600 trucks going through there a day. There would be about 50 more,” Mitchell said.
The effect of the increased diesel traffic by the expansion of the facility is somewhat lessened by the recycling center’s location in a commercial and industrial neighborhood. However, nearby community groups have expressed concern about increased emissions and about trucks en route to the CRRA’s facilities going through their neighborhoods. CRRA has evidently pledged to keep the trucks out of those residential neighborhoods.
“[CRRA officials were] very agreeable to making sure those issues, if they arose, would be solved right away. It’s an informal commitment, but I have no reason to doubt that would be the case,” Bayer said.
Other community groups that usually act in concert with CCEJ have come out tentatively in favor of the recycling facility expansion.
“We had some concerns about it, but we didn’t oppose it. … There were some real plusses in that additional kinds of items could be recycled that couldn’t be recycled with the current facility. We were concerned about increased truck traffic which might affect the neighborhood revitalization zones that abut the area,” Bayer said.
Bayer said Hartford 2000 is instead focusing on other CRRA issues, notably the landfill closing.
“Our intentions and discussions have been combined with the city of Hartford about the closing of the landfill. We feel we’re probably not going to accomplish our goals by only focusing only on the expansion of the recycling facility. The larger issue is the closing of the landfill and how it’s done,” Bayer said.
The CRRA and the roughly decade-old environmental organization CCEJ have a long-standing, thorny relationship. When I mentioned the group to Nonnemacher he sent over a PDF document which purportedly debunks claims about the CRRA made by CCEJ.
“We’re trying to reduce the number of facilities in the city and they keep getting in the way,” Nonnemacher said.
CCEJ has been involved in a DEP litigation battle over the recycling facility. CRRA needs a DEP permit to change their Hartford recycling facilities. CCEJ requested an intervention and an adjudicatory hearing before a DEP administrative law judge. After a September public hearing, the DEP hearing officer recommended that the permit be approved in December. The CCEJ appealed the decision and are awaiting notification from the DEP about whether the appeal will be granted.
Ultimately, Mitchell is most concerned about the preponderance of waste facilities and diesel trucks in the city, and how complacency can set in when residents and officials get used to their presence.
“They’re saying you already have some now, what’s a small percentage more? The question is, how much is too much? When are we bearing too unfair a burden?” asked Mitchell.