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MIRA Now Says It Will Also Shutter Its Hartford Recycling Plant

Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public Radio

A major trash-to-energy plant in Hartford will close next year, raising questions about what will happen with hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage. Now the operator of that plant said it will also cease operations at its nearby recycling facility, effective May 1, 2021.

MIRA President Tom Kirk said Tuesday that the quasi-public doesn’t have the money to update and operate its recycling facility on Murphy Road in Hartford, so officials plan to close up shop and outsource the work to the private sector.

“The recyclables will no longer be processed at Murphy Road,” Kirk said. “We will deliver them -- either directly to, or via a transfer operation at Murphy Road -- to Murphy Road Recycling Incorporated facility in Berlin.”

Murphy Road Recycling LLC was the private company chosen by MIRA earlier this week after the agency solicited proposals to find a new operator or alternative for the plant.

Kirk said the search was initiated because a contract with the plant’s current operator, Republic Services, will terminate in May.

“It was a long, difficult decision for the board,” Kirk said. “They didn’t give up the prospect of operating a publicly owned facility for public benefit easily. But it did need some investment and with all of the uncertainty around MIRA and the participating towns, the board viewed this as the most optimum decision.”

Kirk said he expects recycling prices to remain “competitive” for the agency’s roughly 50 member towns after the shift to private disposal. But he acknowledged using a private company at a different location could lead to higher costs.

“The cost of recycling for MIRA is the market rate,” Kirk said. “It’s a lot of money. It costs more than dealing with garbage, because that’s the status of the markets for the commodities that we capture, bale and sell. And we have the additional costs now of transporting those recyclables.” 

Wading Into The Weedy World Of Waste Permits

If the world of trash is often out of sight and out of mind, the world of trash permits is often out of mind entirely. But permits have taken on particular importance in recent weeks when it comes to the future of MIRA’s operations in Hartford.

When the agency announced in December it planned to close its trash-to-energy plant after decades of burning garbage, Kirk said he wanted to transform the site into a “transfer station.” 

That’s basically a staging area for trash before it gets sent somewhere else for final disposal.

But city leadership in Hartford bristled at that suggestion, as did the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which said MIRA would likely need to add equipment like compactors and balers to do all that work -- requiring more permits. 

And here’s where the element of time comes in. As the transfer station idea grew more complex, getting all those permits in place before MIRA’s scheduled closure of the trash incinerator next year seemed like an increasingly impossible prospect. 

So MIRA dropped that idea and is now searching for alternatives for where it will send its hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage. 

Which raises the question, if the transfer idea was a no-go on the garbage side of things, why would it work for MIRA’s nearby recycling plant?

“I can understand where the confusion comes in,” said Robert Isner, director of DEEP’s waste engineering and enforcement division. “But there are several substantial differences.”

“One of the biggest differences between the two proposals is that at the resource recovery facility [trash incinerator], MIRA was proposing to install new equipment, so that would be a substantive change in the operation,” Isner said. “At the recycling facility, they won’t be installing any new equipment.”

Isner said transforming the recycling plant into a transfer station would also be a continuation of work that’s already going on there, which makes permitting easier. 

Put another way, MIRA sorts some recyclables at its Hartford plant right now, but it also bales and ships a lot of that material elsewhere for further processing. 

“The recycling facility was never a final destination location,” Isner said. “It was always an interim location, so the degree and extent of the change in the recycling facility versus the resource recovery facility was very different.”

But Isner said that doesn’t mean MIRA can just declare the recycling plant dead and herald its rebirth as a transfer station. 

There’s still paperwork to be filed. 

In particular, MIRA will need file papers demonstrating that the decision to shift to a private vendor for recycling will result in more material ultimately getting recycled, in keeping with the state’s waste diversion goals.

“The biggest variable with the proposal that MIRA has is the speed at which they can present their application to the department,” Isner said. “It is something that does require a formal written request from MIRA. The department does not have that in hand.”

“If that information is provided, then the general basis for the approval would be in place,” Isner said. “But if MIRA were to submit an inadequate application and that results in a request for additional information, or lots of back and forth, then there could be the potential for a longer approval process.”

Kirk said in an email that the agency has been working with DEEP on the issue “for a couple of weeks now” and plans to submit the paperwork next week.

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Patrick Skahill is a reporter at WNPR. He covers science and the environment. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached by phone at 860-275-7297 or by email: pskahill@ctpublic.org.
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