Representatives from 80 small businesses around Hartford gathered in front of City Hall on Wednesday morning calling for the shutdown of the waste-to-energy power plant that gives Connecticut the lowest landfill rate in the nation.
In an effort to increase statewide recycling rates, the businesses and advocacy group Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice delivered petitions to Hartford city officials, hoping for their help in phasing out the three boilers at the Mid-Connecticut Project, starting in 2012.
"We need to set a goal of zero incineration and start moving towards it," said Cynthia Jennings from the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
Connecticut has six trash-to-energy power plants that burn municipal solid waste to generate power. The Mid-Connecticut Project is the largest, serving 70 communities and generating 54 megawatts of electricity. The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, a quasi-public state agency, runs the power plant.
After recyclables and non-combustible materials are removed from municipal solid waste, the Mid-Connecticut Project burns the trash for power and places the ashes in landfills. The amount of material going into the landfill is roughly 90 percent less than before processing began.
Connecticut's use of trash-to-energy plants makes the state the leader in the nation in putting tonnage into landfills. Connecticut's landfill rate is 11 percent, compared to the nationwide average of 64 percent. Massachusetts is second best on keeping trash out of landfills at 29 percent.
Despite being the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's preferred method of municipal solid waste disposal, environmental groups such as Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice oppose trash-to-energy plants, claiming they lower recycling rates while increasing toxic air emissions.
"Their claims about us not doing anything about recycling - just like their other claims - are not based on fact," said Paul Nonnemacher, CRRA spokesman.
At the gathering in front of Hartford City Hall on Wednesday, the business representatives and Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice claims the Mid-Connecticut Project is a major source of toxins such as cadmium, mercury and dioxin and are responsible for medical conditions such as asthma.
The latest Mid-Connecticut Project emissions report - released in the third quarter 2009 - disputes these claims. All emissions at the power plant are well below the EPA caps for emissions: cadmium emissions are at 1.1 percent of the cap, mercury at 3.6 percent, particulate matter at 4.4 percent and dioxin at 5 percent.
The only emissions from Mid-Connecticut anywhere near the EPA cap are nitrogen oxides (80 percent) and carbon monoxide (74 percent).
If CRRA were to shut down one of the three Mid-Connecticut boilers in the next four months - as the businesses on Wednesday wanted - then 250,000 tons of garbage would have to be shipped via truck to landfills in Ohio, Massachusetts and New York, with the carbon monoxide emissions from the trucks worse than the emissions from the boiler, Nonnemacher said.
"You'd be emitting all those diesel fumes," Nonnemacher said.
The goal of the 80 businesses on Wednesday - with Hartford stores that included Donchian Rug Cleaners, Original Better Cut Barber Salon, Seashore Seafood, Pelican Tattoo & Body Piercing and Vice Versa Boutique - wasn't to put more trash into landfills, but to increase the recycling rate in Connecticut.
Connecticut's recycling rate is 24 percent, lower than the national average of 28 percent and the lowest in the Northeast. Massachusetts has a 47 percent recycling rate and New York has 36 percent.
Nonnemacher said the businesses and environmental groups overestimate how much recyclable material is burned at Mid-Connecticut. Most of the municipal solid waste left over after recyclables and non-combustible materials are taken out is either food or non-recyclable trash.
If Mid-Connecticut was shut down, Connecticut would need to develop a large-scale composting area, which is very difficult to put in a small state where the rotting food and leaves would bother the neighbors, Nonnemacher said.