Thousands of used tires are illegally dumped each year in CT. Can this proposal help?

Illegally-dumped tires and other trash on the side of a road in Houston, TX. Connecticut lawmakers on Monday discussed ways to have the tire industry handle more of the responsibility for ensuring their programs do not end up in illegal dumps. 

Illegally-dumped tires and other trash on the side of a road in Houston, TX. Connecticut lawmakers on Monday discussed ways to have the tire industry handle more of the responsibility for ensuring their programs do not end up in illegal dumps.

Jon Shapley/ Houston Chronicle

Efforts to clean up Connecticut’s illegal tire dumps hit a roadblock on Monday, as environmentalists and local officials sounded off against an industry-back proposal that would place a fee on new tire sales to pay for recycling initiatives.

While many of those advocates have long-sought a dedicated program to address the disposal of the more than three million tires sold every year in Connecticut, they argued that a new bill to fund recycling and clean up efforts essentially allows tire manufacturers to skirt the same responsibility that has been placed on other hard-to-dispose-of products like mattresses, paints and electronics.

Those programs, known as extended producer responsibility , charge private-sector manufacturers with finding ways to handle their products once they are discarded, saving municipalities millions of dollars annually in disposal and clean-up costs.

While the legislation proposes to create a similar EPR program for tires, critics said that it would merely create more work for state and local governments by placing them in charge collecting and distributing the fees placed on tire sales — while doing little to force companies to ensure that their products do not end up dumped in vacant lots, in woods, rivers, and streams , or even Long Island Sound.

“It essentially puts the burden on the back of government to address the material management of tires,” said Jennifer Heaton-Jones, the executive director of the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, which oversees waste management in much of western Connecticut.

The legislation would create a $2 to $3 fee on tire sales depending on the size of the tire, the majority of which would be collected by the Department of Revenue Services each quarter and placed into a special fund used to offer grants to scrap tire recyclers and to municipalities to clean up illegal tire dumps. Retailers would be allowed to keep 5 percent of the fee to pay for their costs associated with the program.

A similar, $2 fee to pay for the disposal of scrap tires was abolished by the legislature in 1997, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Instead, many retailers charge their own fees to collect used tires and dispose of them, which in Connecticut typically means shipping the tires to Maine, where they are burned in pulp and paper mills .

Members of the tire production and recycling industry defended their proposal on Monday, arguing that roughly 99 percent of the tires currently sold in Connecticut end up being either recycled or burned, and that the remaining issues can best be addressed through local management and the development of new markets that purchase used tires and grind them up to make other products, such as artificial turf and rubber asphalt .

Even as Connecticut and other states have implemented full EPR programs for other products such as mattresses and paints, they argued, no state has mandated such a program for tires.

At Lakin Tire East in West Haven, for example, workers have processed more than 50 million tires since 1979, according to company vice president David Greenstein.

“The problem in Connecticut is not the existing collection and recycling system, it’s the illegal acts of tire thieves scavenging through retailers, scrap tire holding bins, selecting the good tire and illegally dumping the rest.” Greenstein said. “It’s truly a law enforcement issue.”

Advocates on Monday said that they wanted a more expansive system such as those used in some Canadian provinces, which requires manufacturers to collect better data on the tires they sell in order to ensure that they are properly disposed of later.

After the tire industry successfully opposed earlier efforts to enact a statewide EPR program , Environment Committee co-chair Rep. Joe Gresko, D- Stratford, said he reached out to industry representatives in the last year to have them craft their own proposal to address continued illegal dumping, which resulted in the legislation that was debated on Monday.

Gresko — who has backed previous EPR legislation, including a successful effort on gas cylinders — said he was not surprised by the backlash from environmental groups and local officials, adding that the bill stood little chance of being passed by the Democratic-controlled committee as it is currently written.

“I had envisioned an EPR [program], I had asked them not to involve the state, to make it free, easy, and convenient for customers,” Gresko said. “Instead they gave me the language in this bill.”

Instead of trying to move forward on the current bill, Gresko said that he will try to get stakeholders from the industry as well as local governments and environmental organizations to come together in the coming months to draft a compromise around an EPR program that places more of the burden on the manufacturers to see that their products do not end up in illegal dumps.

Passing legislation to better manage the disposal of tires has been cited as a key priority of local officials and environmental groups, who cite the state's growing inability to handle the trash produced within its borders and the cost to cities and towns to ship that waste out of state.