by Colin Hedge
Last updated on 4/13
for Data Visualization for Allwith Prof. Jack DoughertyTrinity College, Hartford CT, USA
Introduction of Community Partner and Research Question.
This semester I have had the pleasure to work with Community Partner Sarah McCoy on data recently released by Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), in the hopes of helping to create valuable visualizations that help answer questions of environmental racism that pertain to solid waste and recycling in our state. Sarah McCoy is a member of The Center for Leadership and Justice, a non-profit organization centered around providing communities in Hartford with the skills and support necessary to organize social justice reforms in Hartford, and has worked closely with The Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance (GHIAA) in the past to answer questions like: where does our trash go? Who assess the level of pollution? And who will clean up the land after it is deemed unusable from unsustainable waste-disposal-practices (Center For Leadership and Justice)? Since the passing of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in 1976 (when the slogan “reduce, reuse, and recycle” was created), many Americans have been buying into sustainable practices, like recycling, without understanding the full-scope of what is capable of being recycled and re-used into new material. All of these are important questions and considerations that motivate our amazing community partner(s), and my role in helping them better address these concerns is to answer the following: which Hartford area towns have a high percentage of recycling?
This question is useful in helping them because DEEP has provided us with exclusive data on solid waste and recycling in Connecticut. Prior to this, the last report available on this subject had not been updated since 2014 (this data is from reports on the 2021 Fiscal Year), so there have been seven years where we have had no data on how much trash and recyclables towns in Connecticut were producing. However, despite these important developments in Connecticut’s solid waste and recycling reports, there are still limitations to the data we have been provided with; which will be explained further in the following section before I answer the question: which towns in Hartford county exhibit a high percentage of recycling relative to the total municipal solid waste produced.
Generally, the major factor that limits our ability to accurately pull accurate visualizations from the data is that there is a large amount of disposable and recycling that DEEP cannot trace back to any specific town or area (these terms are defined in the methods and research section of the story template). Which, ends up producing suspicious data on certain particular towns, or outliers. Although the methods for determining these outliers are subjective and subject to change, the following towns will not be included in the further analysis of my research because they are simply too unreliable or risky to include: Enfield, Suffield, South Windsor, Windsor, Windsor Locks, Manchester, Glastonbury, Southington, Newington, and Farmington.
In order to gain a full understanding of the percent-recycling-rate Hartford area towns are demonstrating, the following bar chart displays both accurate and inaccurate percentages of MSW recycled by all towns in Hartford county, with outliers being shaded.
Looking at the visualization above, it is hopefully apparent that the towns excluded from further visualizations and analysis are statistical outliers because they have figures much higher than the others, and would be unrealible to include these data-points when trying to make accurate conclusions. Further information on my criteria and reasoning for excluding certain towns can be seen in the Methods and Research section of the story-template.
Now, drawing from only the towns colored in blue, the data shows that there are some towns with notably high recycling rates. More specifically, it seems that the towns of West Hartford (28.2%), East Windsor (28.55%), East Granby (26%), and Hartford (26%) have percentages that are significantly higher than the Grand Total (22.3%), or average percent recycled. On the other hand, the towns of New Britain (12%), Plainville (16%), and Marlborough (17%) had drastically low percentages of trash being recycled. Furthermore, looking at the grand total (i.e., the total tons of recycled material divided by the sum of disposable and recycled tons of MSW) provides insight into where Hartford county ranks in recycling compared to the rest of the state. More specifically, according to reports provided by The Connecticut General Assembly in the 2014 fiscal year, the state of Connecticut was recycling roughly 34% of MSW (CT DEEP). Which, when considering the percentages above, are remarkably concerning for Hartford county’s place in the practice of sustainable waste disposal methods. In fact, the national average of MSW being recycled or composted (32%) in the United States further supports the concerning percentages provided in Figure 1 (U.S. Environmental Protections Agency).
Circling back to the question of research, perhaps a better demonstration of which towns in Hartford county have high percent-recycling is to situate the data within a map of the county. The following map illustrates towns with higher percent-recycling than the average in blue (darker blues being higher percentages), and towns with lower percentages are seen in red (darker red being lower percentages).
Now that we have answered which towns in Hartford county have a high percent of MSW recycled, I wanted to take the question a step further and answer the following:
why exactly do these towns have a high percent of recycling?
To do so, I decided to cross-examine the data on percent recycling with two other variables to see if there was any statistically significant correlation between the two. The specific variables I decided to analyize were Median Household Income, and Population Denisty. The reasons for why I chose to include these two in my analysis was because at first glance I noticed that towns with high percent-recycling were also densely populated, or had above-average incomes, and vice-versa. In order to see if this was the case, I decided to compare these two variables by creating two separate scatter-plot charts, which can be seen in the following section.
Beginning with median household income (i.e., income distribution based on the total number of households and families including ones with no income), the following scatter plot reveals that contrary to my initial thought, there generally isnt much of a correlation, or at the very least not a strong enough one, between median household income and percent recycling because the trend-line is essentially flat.
However, something that may be interesting to note from this visualization is that each town below the state’s median household income ($83,572 inflation adjusted dollars, or everything to the left of Bloomfield on the scatter plot) also exhibits a percent recycling below the average found in this data set (22.3%) with the exception of Hartford. Additionally, there were several towns with high percent recyling and high median household income (West Hartford, Granby, and East Granby), but there were also towns with low percent recycling and a high median household income (Avon, Marlborough, Hartland). Regardless, despite median household income not providing me with the answer I was hoping for, I was still interested in seeing if population density would have a more pronounced trend line we could draw analysis from.
Looking at the scatter plot, we can see that there is actually an even less significant correlation between population density and percent recycling than there was for median household income, which is interesting given that Connecticut is ranked fourth in the country in terms of population density (738 people per square mile). However, looking at the data as a whole reveals something interesting. The two towns with the lowest percent recycling, New Britain and Plainville, have both a high population density (5,534 and 1805 respectively) as well as a low median household income ($50,379 and $72,197). In light of this, the previous has ultimately shown that population and median household income cannot account for why towns have a high percentage of recycling, but could (potentially) be a part of why towns have a low percentage of recycling.
Calculating Percent of MSW Recycled
The formula used for determining what percentage of MSW towns were recycling was broken up into three sections. The first, was figuring out how much trash towns were not recycling, which I calculated as the total tons towns contributed to Residual Resource Facilities (RRFs) because, at the time, this was the primary method for disposing of waste that could not be reused/recycled. The second component, was determining how many tons towns were contributing to Recycling Facilities (RFs). After, I used these components to determine percent of MSW recycled by adding the two together, and then dividing it by the total tons given to Recycling facilities (RF divided by RRF+RF). However, as mentioned before, there was a massive amount of data that could not be traced back to any particular town. More specifically, a total of 264,825 tons of waste given to RRFs, and 364,117 tons given to RFs, were considered undefined or unable to be attributed to a town. Which, resulted in me having to exclude several towns in Hartford county from my data.
Methods For Determining Towns With Unreliable Data
Given that there was so much data that was undefined, I was able to determine whether or not a towns data was suspicious through a variety of methods, though the degree to which I evaluated specific values is mostly subjective. Some of the variables I looked at for determining suspicious data were: Disposed Waste Estimated Tons, Disposed Waste Estimated pounds per person per day, Total Recycling Estimated pounds per person per day, and Residential Recycling Estimated pounds per person per day. Each of the towns excluded from my data story displayed something wrong from one or more of these variables. As well as, an abnormally high percent recycling:
Enfield had a significantly low Estimated Tons of Waste Disposed (57 tons) as well as Disposed Waste Estimate pounds per person per day (0.0).
Farmington had a significantly high Total Recyling Estimated pounds per person per day (3.37) as well as a Percent Recycling (54%).
Suffield had a significantly low Disposed Waste Estimated Tons (7) as well as Disposed Waste Estimated pounds per person per day (0.0).
South Windsor had a significantly high Total Recycling Estimated pounds per person per day (1.45) as well as Percent Recycling (40%).
Windsor had a significantly high Total Recycling Estimated pounds per person per day (1.69) as well as Percent Recycling (55%).
Windsor Locks had a significantly low Disposed Waste Estimated Tons (740), Disposed Waste Estimated pounds per person per day (0.3), and Total Recycling Estimate pounds per person per day (-1.05). As well as, a significantly high Percent Recycling (76%).
Manchester had a significantly high Total Recycling Estimate pounds per person per day (1.53) as well as Percent Recycling (42%).
Glastonbury had a significantly high Residential Recycling Estimated Tons (10,033), Residential Recycling Estimated Pounds per person per day (1.57), Total Recycling Estimated pounds per person per day (1.79), and Percent Recycling (37%).
Southington had a significantly high Disposed Waste Estimated Tons (39,808) as well as Disposed Waste Estimate pounds per person per day (5.0).
Newington had a significantly high Total Recyling Estimate pounds per person per day (1.93).
Municipal Solid Waste (MSW): solid waste from residential, commercial, and industrial sources, excluding solid waste consisting of significant quantities of hazardous waste.
Resource Recovery Facilities (RRFs): A facility that combusts MSW to generate electricity or energy.
Disposable Waste: solid waste that contains organic matter capable of being decomposed.
Recycling Waste: solid waste that is converted into reusable material.
Population Density: concentration of individuals within a specific geographic locale, or square mile.
Median Household Income: The income amount that divides an area’s families or households into two equal groups, hald having an income above that amount, and half having an income below that amount.
CT DEEP, “Solid Waste and Recycling Data”, 2014. https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Reduce-Reuse-Recycle/Data/Solid-Waste--Recycling-Data
United States Census Bureau, “Census Data”, 2021. https://data.census.gov/
Center For Leadership and Justice, “Environmental Justice Campaign”, 2021. https://cljct.org/ghiaa/environment/
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Frequent Questions Regarding EPA’s Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling”, December 3, 2022. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/frequent-questions-regarding-epas-facts-and#:~:text=About%2094%20million%20tons%20of,a%2032.1%20percent%20recycling%20rate.
World Population Review, “Connecticut Population: Demographics, Maps, and Graphs”, 2023. https://worldpopulationreview.com/states/connecticut-population
Jack Dougherty, “Jack’s Calculations of 2021 MSW data”, 2023. Link provided by professor Jack Dougherty.
Colin Hedge, “Final Project Data”, 2023. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/17kGQiaX9Ta6W36hhJah5ifkEz7DG738RE3HdXCY8aqM/edit?usp=sharing