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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Sustainable Recycling: Regional Workshop Draws Statewide Participants

Feb 01, 2019 01:52PM ● By Ariana Fine

The legislative session in Hartford is underway and Connecticut’s leading environmental oorganizations, such as Live Green!, are working with local municipalities, nonprofits and passionate environmentally focused volunteers to foster more interest and collaboration in recycling. More specifically, they are encouraging collaborations to recycle more efficiently, effectively and economically. Live Green! held a regional workshop on sustainable development in Westport in mid-January and 35 towns were represented. Forty percent of participants worked for towns and 25 percent attended as community volunteers. With the mission to “substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse,” the interactive workshop brought innovative thinkers and “doers” together to review what has and is being done. 

Statewide Educational Programs

Sherill Baldwin, a 30-year sustainable materials management veteran who works for the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sustainable Materials Management department, is currently involved with projects such the RecycleCT Foundation, the CT WRAP initiative and product stewardship programs. The last time Connecticut conducted fresh statewide education, promotion and training opportunities for municipal recycling coordinators and environmental educators was in the mid-1990s, Baldwin says. She explains there is a current need to harmonize and simplify recycling messaging to decrease confusion among residents, and help them understand the updated “dos and don’ts” to lower the amount of recycling contamination. The RecycleCT campaign, which launched in 2016, is an updated communication strategy to show that simply collecting is not recycling. Baldwin says a new focus will be on multi-family housing education initiatives and providing more robust recycling options to them. 

CT DEEP has a Comprehensive Materials Management Strategy goal of 60 percent diversion by 2024, including reducing trash generation​. They would like to decrease contamination and increase participation through the "What's IN, What's OUT" campaign, which will teach more about the new, universal list for recycling. CT DEEP hopes to transfer costs of recycling collection and markets through producers’ extended packaging responsibility programs.

Reducing Contamination of Recyclables 

Twenty percent of mixed recyclables are contaminated with garbage, says Jennifer Heaton-Jones, the executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority. Heaton-Jones says a new approach is needed to reduce the costs of contamination in the 169 communities in Connecticut. Each community needs to identify their citizens’ barriers to recycling well and create localized solutions. What size container do they have? How often does recycling get picked up? What is needed to access the recycling space? Do they need to go town hall for a recycling permit? When is the recycling location open? Is there a specific recycling coordinator? Is the town’s website up to date? Is taking glass out of the mixed recycling stream a solution? Do towns need help with cart inspection? Should contamination fees be eliminated? Should there be one-day recycling for hard-to-recycle products? These are just some of the questions towns ought to consider, Heaton-Jones says.

New Approach to Glass Recycling

The EPA says nearly 12 million tons of glass end up in municipalities’ solid waste stream and of that, only 3.5 million tons are useable for recycling. Glass recycling rates remain low. Some of the barriers to recycling glass include transportation costs to markets out of the area, the closing of a regional Massachusetts recycling plant, and the recycling challenges of wrong-color and too-small glass.

How can that change? A new company in the area is hoping to provide a more economical solution for municipalities in the region. “The current economics for MRF glass are quite poor because of bottle manufacturer specifications and cleanliness of MRF glass,” says Louis P. Grasso Jr., LEED AP, an Urban Mining Northeast, LLC managing partner with over 30 years of experience in commercial construction and masonry products. With traditional methods focused on recycling into new bottles, Urban Mining Northeast saw an opportunity by becoming a licensed regional producer of Pozzotive. The process takes any size and color of glass and ceramic and turns them into a partial replacement for cement. Pozzotive can be used to replace up to 40 percent of a cement mixture, which also reduces related CO2 emissions generated by cement production, explains Grasso Jr. The company is currently looking to build a 50,000-ton plant in Connecticut.

Plastic Bag Bans

Five communities currently have legislation to ban use of plastic bags, says Louis Burch, the Connecticut program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. He hopes 2019 will be the year that legislation will be forward on a state level. A good idea is for grocers to eliminate thin plastic bags while offering thicker plastic bags for a small fee, Burch says. Once 80 percent reduction in bags is reached, they can phase out the bags altogether. If such legislation passes, it could be one of the strongest policies for plastic bags in the nation. 

We also need to provide incentives to food establishments to diminish single-use food service items, Burch continues. These low-grade plastics are piling up in waste facilities, ending up in incinerators and creating dioxins and pollution. 

Ariana Rawls Fine is Editor of Natural Awakenings Fairfield/Housatonic Valley, CT. She resides in Stratford with her family. 

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