Borough reaps benefits of CRRA program

Recyclables like these net the borough $5 per ton from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Association.

NAUGATUCK — Residents who want to help ease the borough’s financial woes can start small—by recycling more of their household waste.

The Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority (CRRA) pays to each participating town a $5-per-ton rebate for the household recyclables it collects.

That number is down from the $10 per ton offered during the 2007-2008 fiscal year.

Sheila Baummer, the borough’s recycling coordinator in the Public Works Department, said this decrease is an effect of the recession.

“The market for recyclables crashed along with the stock market” she said. Recyclable goods are, in effect, traded like commodities, and as they lose value, the CRRA cannot afford to offer a more competitive rebate program.

Recycling in the 2008-09 fiscal year was worth $7,674 to the borough—a drop in the bucket of a $103.4 million total budget (down to $103.3 this year).

On the flip side, Naugatuck must pay the CRRA to process solid garbage waste. The borough spent about $67 per ton last year and will pay roughly $69 per ton this year.

In 2008-09, the borough spent $741,799 on these “tipping fees” ($633,418 to the CRRA for processing and the remainder for associated hauling costs). This line item amounted to 57 percent of the sanitation department’s budget and 15 percent of the entire public works and recreation budget.

In all, the borough made back about one percent of what it spent on garbage hauling and processing by recycling. Regardless of the relative insignificance of this sum, Baummer said “… for every ton we recycle, we offset what we would have paid [for garbage processing]—and we get a rebate … I don’t think most people in Naugatuck realize what it costs to process garbage or the tax benefits of recycling.”

Mayor Bob Mezzo added “Every dollar in a tight budget is important … it’s still money coming into the borough and not going out.”

The CCRA is an agency dedicated to encouraging recycling and converting solid waste to energy by way of incineration. Since the agency is considered quasi-public, it cannot record a profit—so any extra revenue it generates gets sent back to participating towns.

Towns saw tipping fees spike when a $220 million deal between the CRRA and former energy giant Enron failed, after the company filed for bankruptcy and its rampant accounting fraud was laid plain. Baummer said the fees are returning to a “reasonable amount” as the CRRA recovers from the loss.

Naugatuck also received a roughly $700,000 piece of the $36 million settlement awarded to the 70 towns in the CRRA’s Mid-Connecticut project after a Waterbury Superior Court judge ruled the CRRA overcharged them in an effort to pay for the loss incurred in the Enron deal.

Mezzo said the allocation of the sum has not been determined, but it will more than likely end up going back into recycling or the sanitation department at large.

Naugatuck’s contract with the CRRA will expire in 2012; at that point, other options for waste disposal will be explored, though Baummer said “incineration is the most common method.”

Of the 70 towns participating in the agency’s Mid-Connecticut Project, the largest of its four regional projects, Naugatuck has the fourth-lowest yearly per capita recycling poundage—96.33 pounds—outpacing only Waterbury, Hartford, and East Hartford.

Though Naugatuck’s recycling numbers from the CRRA are weak, Baummer said that since some condominiums, apartment complexes, and businesses contract private haulers to take care of their solid waste, their tonnages do not get counted with the town’s, skewing the CRRA data.

This commercial side of the waste equation accounts for 45 percent of the borough’s total garbage output to the CRRA. But since in the past the agency did not allow private haulers to bring in recycling, they have since found other markets for the waste and are sticking to them.

If the ratio of garbage-to-recyclables in waste collected by private haulers is proportionate to that of the municipal program (roughly 50:7), the CRRA’s data is severely skewed, and Naugatuck may not be half as bad, in terms of recycling, as it appears to be on paper.

In addition, the borough sends only curbside recycling—bottles, cans, glass, newspaper, and the like—to the CRRA, not things like tires, auto batteries, used motor oil, or brush and grass clippings, which go to other markets.

Baummer said a significant challenge to promoting recycling in Naugatuck is rental properties, whose residents may not know about Naugatuck’s commingled curbside recycling pickup and act accordingly. Garbage pickup workers are authorized to leave behind trash bags containing recyclables along with stickers indicating the waste must be recycled.

Additionally, Baummer said she tries to educate offenders by speaking to them directly or by writing letters.

Another problem is the bi-weekly pickup schedule. Some might find their bins overflowing after only one week—or in some large households’ cases, a couple of days. Baummer said this is purely an economic problem. The borough currently has one recycling truck and crew; to provide weekly pick-up would require two trucks and two crews.

Anyone who needs an additional bin can pick one up free of charge at the public works office, 246 Rubber Avenue, behind the ambulance company. Larger, 22-gallon bins are available also.

Residents are reminded that curbside pickup accommodates metal food containers, plastic bottles, glass jars and bottles, milk and juice cartons, corrugated cardboard, and newspaper. The Recycling Center, which is open Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m.-2 p.m., accepts used motor oil, empty propane tanks, car batteries, tires, office paper, books, CDs, videos, clothing, scrap metal, six-pack rings, phone books, branches, brush, grass clippings, leaves, and Christmas trees.