A tour of CRRA's trash-to-energy plant in Hartford. The Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority will submit a transition plan at the

The Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority trash-to-energy plant on Maxim Road in Hartford processes up to 7,000 tons of trash each day. (Patrick Raycraft / Hartford Courant / November 18, 2013)

Though it hasn't gotten much attention, the recycling bill proposed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is one of the most important measures the General Assembly will vote on in the 2014 session. The bill will move the state from burning and dumping most of its solid waste to recycling the majority of it.

The bill should pass.

It's time. Four decades ago, the state took the then-innovative step of moving away from landfills toward burning trash to create electrical energy. Six trash-to-energy plants were constructed. At present, almost two-thirds of the 3.2 million tons of municipal solid waste the state produces each year is incinerated at the six plants, while 25 to 30 percent is recycled, nearly 10 percent is shipped out of state and a tiny bit is dumped in landfills, according to state figures. The ash from incinerators must also be dumped, and siting ash landfills is a challenge.

But, it turns out, much of what is burned could actually be recycled. According to 2010 study by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, 27 percent of what residents currently dispose of is organic material, 26 percent is paper and 22 percent is plastic, metal or glass — which could be composted, reused or recycled. Although the market for recycled materials is subject to fluctuation, state officials believe it is fundamentally sound. "It's a lot more expensive for Alcoa to make a ton of aluminum from bauxite than to make a ton of aluminum from aluminum," said Macky McCleary, DEEP deputy commissioner for environmental quality.

The state estimates that at least $10 million in otherwise salable commodities go up in smoke each year. And the smoke is another environmental issue, a sore point for years with activists in the communities where the plants are located. Recycling, on the other hand, creates jobs in those communities.

Officials estimate that municipalities would save $35 million a year if the recycling rate was moved to just 40 percent. The bill sets a more ambitious recycling goal — 60 percent by the year 2024.

In addition, the bill renames and reshapes the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, the quasi-public entity that owns and operates the waste-to-energy plant in Hartford. It becomes a smaller and leaner organization called the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, which will focus on materials management rather than waste management.

The bill also creates a "Recycle CT Foundation Inc." to promote recycling, and begins the process of remaking or replacing the Hartford plant, the state's oldest, largest and least efficient.

The bill, which has wide support in the environmental community, was approved Monday by the legislature's Appropriations Committee and now goes to the Senate. This is an opportunity that shouldn't be lost.