What's Next for Our Trash? MIRA's Hartford Waste-to-Energy Facility Closed This Week

“It affects us all because we’re all interconnected."

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It’s an end of an era for trash reduction in Connecticut. This week, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, or MIRA, waste-to-energy facility in Hartford has closed its doors.

Combustion at the facility ended Tuesday.

“The plant is old and tired and doesn't run nearly as reliably as it has in years past,” said MIRA president Tom Kirk. 

Once there wasn’t a commitment from the state to update the Hartford plant, some partner municipalities started looking for new partnerships.

Plus, Kirk explains the plant also wasn’t making the money it used to for power prices. So where does the 720,000 tons of waste that was reduced here every year go?

Kirk said it has to find a new home most likely in a state west or south of Connecticut.

“Now about a third of the waste that we generate here in Connecticut that can't be recycled, isn’t going or won't be recycled is now going to end up in a landfill. So it is a step backwards environmentally, hopefully, it'll be an interim solution, not something we rely on long term," Kirk said.

While the closing of the facility doesn’t directly impact a municipality like Middletown who never used MIRA, it still has an impact.

“It affects us all because we’re all interconnected,” Middletown Recycling Coordinator Kim O’Rourke said.

On Thursday, Middletown kicked off a “Refill Not Landfill Coffee Cup Passport Program.”

“I mean, there are so many single-use coffee cups out there, right? We love our coffee. We absolutely love our coffee, but all those cups are a problem,” O’Rourke said.

Residents can pick up a reusable mug and use it at participating coffee shops, like Perk on Main, saving them money, entering them to win prizes, but more importantly reducing waste.

“Our whole goal is to reduce the landfill, for Perk we have done such a good job composting and giving coffee grounds to farmers, we’re really all about that,” Claudia White said.

At Perk, if you bring a reusable mug, “you can get hot coffee, iced coffee, hot tea or iced tea for $2 a refill.”

“I think it’s great. I believe in reducing our carbon footprint as we say,” said Kelly Robinson, a Middletown resident who signed a petition to participate Thursday.

While this is just an example how you can do your part, experts NBC Connecticut spoke with say policy is vital.

The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEE) sent us this statement:

"MIRA’s decision to close its waste to energy facility is causing many municipalities to rely on other States, in the near-term, to landfill CT-generated waste that was previously managed within our borders. DEEP is working hard to ensure that this period is as brief and limited as possible, by working in partnership with municipalities, legislators, and community leaders to accelerate investment in sustainable and affordable waste management solutions. DEEP has certain tools and actions that we can bring to this effort within our existing authority: convening the Connecticut Coalition for Sustainable Materials Management—a coalition of more than 95 CT municipalities that are working together to share best practices for diversion and recycling; providing technical assistance and grant funding for diversion, recycling, and waste reduction through the new Sustainable Materials Management grant program; supporting investment in commercial-scale anaerobic digesters; and improving permitting processes to provide a more transparent, predictable and efficient process for considering new infrastructure investments."

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is working with DEEP on future solutions.

Meanwhile, its chief strategy officer says, “I would encourage anyone who has ideas or thought of ideas to just really, you know, take them and run with them because, you know, we're looking for ways to again, manage trash and again, one person's trash is another person's treasure.”

So while many drag their garbage to the curb and make it someone else’s problem, MIRA’s president and other experts we spoke to say we now need to focus on environmentally-friendly future solutions.

"The trash energy industry and the haulers have done such a good job over the past 30 years that we have masked our problem,” Kirk said.

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