Riiska Talks Trash and Future of Waste Disposal

America is a land of plenty, and it produces plenty of waste.

What to do with the mountains of garbage generated by American households is a pressing issue for Connecticut municipalities, especially with the final dissolution of MIRA (the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority) scheduled to take place no later than July 1, 2026.

MIRA, which once had a trash-to-energy burn plant in Hartford, receives and processes solid municipal wastes from 23 Connecticut towns. When its aging burn plant closed in 2022, refuse was (and is) loaded on trucks and shipped over the state’s borders to landfills in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The matter weighs on member towns in the Northwest Hills Council of Governments, where a committee has been formed to formulate a plan. “We’re working on a plan for after the fact,” said First Selectman Matt Riiska, a member of the committee. “Part of it is becoming part of a regional authority that would cover many of the Northwest Corner towns.”

Riiska said Norfolk produces about 750 tons of solid waste annually, another 300 tons of bulky waste and 165 tons of recyclables. “When I became first selectman in 2017, we were paying $72 a ton for solid waste disposal,” he said. “Next year, we will have to plan on paying $131 per ton, so it has gone up considerably.”

He said it is hoped that a regional authority can continue to use the Torrington hub. “We’re looking at that as a way station for the stuff to be taken out of state,” he said. “There are no landfills in Connecticut. Why are we dumping our trash on Ohio and Pennsylvania? It’s just like driving down the road and throwing your garbage out of the window.”

He said the state “desperately needs” a trash-to-energy generation plant. “I was under the impression that they had a group looking into it,” he said, “but I found out last week that they are not.”

“This is not going away—at all” he continued. “Anyone who thinks we can recycle our way out of this is very naïve.”

He said Norfolk is proactive about recycling trash, offering residents the opportunity to sustainably discard textiles, electronics, tires, metal, paper and single-stream plastic, metal and glass containers. “We don’t do a bad job in Norfolk, but some of the larger cities and towns won’t have the same response,” he said.

Other countries, even some American states, have tried alternate methods to encourage recycling. “One way is pay-to-throw,” he explained. “You buy biodegradable trash bags from the town. It’s the only bag you can use, and you can only put so much in them. It makes people think before they throw something away.”

Another possibility is to have community containers for organic kitchen waste that would be then be picked up by commercial composting services. Such services are used at the Salisbury/Sharon transfer site and in Falls Village. “But we don’t have a lot of restaurants or private schools,” he observed, saying the volume of material would be less in Norfolk. 

“If we didn’t have such a bad bear issue, we could put a composting bin at the transfer station, but we would need a lot of DEEP permitting.”

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