A product of circumstance: Brookhaven Town, Three Village Civic discuss recycling

A product of circumstance: Brookhaven Town, Three Village Civic discuss recycling

Brookhaven’s single-stream recycling facility in Yaphank. File photo by Clayton Collier

By Karina Gerry

The Town of Brookhaven returned to a dual-stream recycling model — where paper, plastic and metals are separated —at the end of November to alleviate problems in the recycling market, but the switch has left some Brookhaven residents confused and frustrated.

The Three Village Civic Association hoped to ease residents’ worries and concerns at its Jan. 7 meeting by inviting Chris Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s Department of Recycling and Sustainable Materials Management, and Erich Weltsek, town recycling coordination aide, to speak at Emma S. Clark Library in Setauket about the new dual-stream recycling schedule and explain why the change was necessary.

“We decided to focus our monthly meeting on changes in the town’s recycling program because the changes are significant,” George Hoffman, vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said. 

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August 2018. Brookhaven has since returned to dual stream recycling. Photo from Town of Smithtown

In October 2018, Green Stream Recycling, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, terminated its 25-year agreement to operate Brookhaven’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The recycling market was deeply affected by China’s National Sword policy, implemented in January of last year, which bans the import of 24 types of solid waste and has set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials. 

China has been the leading world importer of waste, at one point taking in more than 50 percent of the world’s plastic recyclables. As a result of National Sword, recycled material has piled up at recycling facilities across the country, like Brookhaven’s in Yaphank.

“Switching from single stream to dual stream was not something we wanted to do,” Andrade said during his presentation Monday night. “But it was a product of circumstance.”

Andrade went on to explain recent changes to the recycling marketplace were unexpected, noting that no one thought it would happen on the scale that it did and so quickly, too.

“In my opinion, the buyers need to own some of it,” Andrade said. “There were domestic mills when I started in this business. There were domestic processing plants. They started paying less money than the overseas plants and so everybody started shipping material overseas. People put all their eggs into one basket and then when China shut down there were no homes for us anymore.”

While Andrade notes the future for domestic mills seems likely to turn the market around, he doesn’t believe it will happen for at least a year.

As the markets took a downturn, cross contamination of recycling became an issue. For Old Field resident and Sierra Club Long Island Group chair Jane Fasullo, the problem isn’t surprising. Fasullo took a tour of the single-stream facility and was surprised by what she saw.

It was an “eye-opening experience,” Fasullo said. “It wasn’t as lean of a separation as I thought it would be.”

While Fasullo noted single stream did encourage more recycling overall, she said she believes dual stream produces a cleaner stream, yet she insists the problem we should be concerned about isn’t single stream versus dual stream, the real issue plaguing our country is plastic.

“The biggest industry going that prevents major changes is the plastics industry,” Fasullo said. “We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.”

When Brookhaven announced its decision to move back to dual stream the town placed ads in a number of papers including TBR News Media newspapers. Later the town broadcast its new policy through radio, television, social media and newspaper ads. Still, many residents said they were not properly contacted and informed about the changes. 

“You know, there are so many forms of media now to communicate to,” Andrade said. “So, it’s a challenge.”

‘We’re being overrun by plastic. Even our clothing now is plastic. And all of this stuff is just building up our garbage piles.’

— Jane Fasullo

A popular concern that was continuously brought up at the meeting was the issue of glass, which is no longer being picked up curbside, much to the dismay of residents. Instead, satellite locations have been set up throughout the town where glass can be dropped off free of charge. So far there are seven locations, including the town’s parking lot across from the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai and Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartwright (D-Port Jefferson Station) expressed her appreciation for the commissioner coming to speak to the community and providing background information to help people understand the switch from single stream to dual stream.

“This education is key to the success of recycling with the town,” Cartright said. “This office will continue to promote further education and work with residents to address any complaints or concerns they may have during this transition.”

After the meeting was over, Andrade expressed a positive outlook on the results from the meeting and future meetings that he and his colleague Weltsek hope to hold with civic associations around the town.

“I think overall people want to do the right thing,” Andrade said. “And I think they will do the right thing. It’s just a matter of giving them enough time and enough information to do the right thing.”

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