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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.”

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

It’s a rubbish time to be involved in the recycling industry.

The Town of Brookhaven’s recycling plant is grappling with unprecedented mounds of bottles, used paper goods and trash. Ever since China implemented its “National Sword” policy in January banning the import of various nonindustrial plastics, paper and other solid wastes, Brookhaven’s had a hard time selling off collected recyclable materials. As China was one of the top buyers of U.S. recyclables according to NPR, this move has left many Suffolk townships unsure what to do with their residents’ recycled garbage.

To recycle or not: Tips  on handling your trash

By Kyle Barr

Operators of the Brookhaven recycling plant deal with a lot of junk. Not the good kind of junk, however, as many household items that residents assume can be recycled can cause havoc in the machinery.

In the four years since the town invested in single-stream recycling,  Erich Weltsek, a recycling coordination aid for Brookhaven, said there has been increased resident participation in the recycling program. But it has also led to some residents chucking in items that have no business being recycled.

We’ve gotten chunks of concrete, and you even get sports balls — like soccer balls, footballs — constantly,” he said. “A lot of what we call ‘wish cycling,’ where people think they’re doing the right thing and when in doubt they throw it in a recycle bin instead of the right receptacle.”

Weltsek said people have tried to recycle Coleman outdoor stoves and propane tanks, which is extremely dangerous and could result in an explosion at the facility.

The most pervasively disruptive items are plastic bags and other items that Weltsek called “tanglers,” such as Christmas tree lights, pool liners and garden hoses. The recycling facility operates on a number of conveyor belts that first feed into a device called a star screen, a number of rotating cylinders with feet that separate recyclable fibers from other items. These items either wrap around the wheels on the conveyor belt or star screen, either letting fibers through the wrong end or stopping the machine entirely.

Suffolk residents should clean out any plastic bottles or cans before putting them in the recycling. Any low-quality paper products or grease-stained cardboard such as used pizza boxes, should not be recycled because they affect the sellable quality of the entire recycling bundle.

Andrade said all plastic bags should be recycled at a local supermarket, which are mandated by New York State law to have a receptacle for all shopping bags.

The plant often has to turn away other nonrecyclable material, such as plastic utensils, bottle caps and Styrofoam. All of these are considered contaminants, either because they cannot be recycled properly, or they
dilute the quality of the material.

“While it hasn’t stopped it, China’s new policies have significantly slowed down the ability of recyclers to move material to market,” said  Christopher Andrade, commissioner of Brookhaven Town’s waste management department. “There are domestic mills and domestic markets [but] the thing is just finding them, negotiating them and moving the material.”

That is easier said than done, according to Andrade, as many recycling plants across the nation now have fewer options of where to sell their collected goods. China has publicly claimed the decision has to do with the quality of the materials, as low-quality newspaper print or thin PVC plastics are not considered valuable enough for reuse. There’s also the problem of recyclables being mixed with other, nonreusable garbage.

In 2014, Brookhaven moved from dual-stream to single-stream recycling, a system that allows residents to put out all their recyclables in a single can to be sorted out at the town’s facilities instead of bringing out a different material — plastic, papers or metal — every other week. This increased overall participation in the recycling program, Andrade said, but has led to some confusion.

The loss of the Chinese market has severely interrupted the Brookhaven-owned Green Stream Recycling facility’s outflow. Green Stream Recycling LLC, a company that contracts with the town and operates the town’s facility in Yaphank, made good use of China’s market. While the facility continues to operate without a definitive answer to where else the company can move its materials, some of it is now going back into the landfill, according to Andrade.

This crisis is not only affecting the Town of Brookhaven, but other municipalities on Long Island which sell their collected recyclables to Suffolk County’s largest township. In 2014, the Town of Smithtown formed a five-year contract with Brookhaven to send 12,000 tons of garbage to the Green Stream facility,  in return for $180,000 per year. While Brookhaven continues to honor the agreements with its partnered municipalities, the lack of market availability for recyclables has some members of Smithtown Town Board concerned.

At a Sept. 4 work session, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) showed board members a photo taken by a drone in May showing recyclables piled in heaps just outside Brookhaven’s facility. The picture made Wehrheim and other board members question what might become of the town’s current recycling agreement.

“At one point, we’re going to come to some decision what to do with [Brookhaven Town,] Wehrheim said. “It could be a potential problem … in the short term.”

Andrade said that excess dumping on the facility’s land came from the “shock” of China’s National Sword policy being implemented earlier this year, though he said the situation has since been brought under control. Despite these international issues, Andrade said Brookhaven remains committed to recycling.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) “and the board believe very strongly in recycling, and we’ll bounce back from this,” he said.

The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

— Russell Barnett

Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director in the Department of Environment and Waterways, said he is working on a solution with Brookhaven, including a regional approach comprising Smithtown, Huntington, Southold and several other communities that are partnered with Brookhaven.

Smithtown had its own dual-stream facility that was closed before it started sending its materials to Brookhaven in 2014, though reopening it could be costly.

“We’re assessing our equipment — seeing what’s operational, what’s not, what repairs need to be made and what upgrades need to be made if the occasion comes up that we want to go that route,” Barnett said.

In the meantime, he said residents need to be more discriminating when it comes to deciding what items to recycle. Otherwise, it will be much harder in the future to find a buyer for the world’s recyclable garbage.

“When they talk about the standard, they’re not just talking about nonrecyclable material
but the right kind of recyclable material.” Barnett said. “The markets are being overwhelmed; the people taking the material can be picky on what they accept. We’re going to have to respond by being better at only putting out the things that people can actually reuse.”

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Town officials trying to plan for Brookhaven landfill’s closure, evaluate potential odor issue and site locations

Power Crush, Inc. is located on Old Northport Road in Kings Park. Photo by Elana Glowatz

The Town of Smithtown is hoping to find a fertile concept for budding plans to build an organic waste processing facility, one that town officials hope might mitigate a potential Long Island trash crisis.

“We are looking in that direction as well as a number of other directions because there will come a point, not just in Smithtown but on Long Island, where municipalities are going to have to deal with solid waste once the Brookhaven landfill closes,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said.

“…[T]here will come a point, not just in Smithtown but on Long Island, where municipalities are going to have to deal with solid waste once the Brookhaven landfill closes.

— Ed Wehrheim

The town received $187,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency to undertake a study starting in 2015 on the impacts of indoor organic waste processing facilities, one that takes items like food waste and grass clippings and turns it into compost. Wehrheim said many Suffolk County municipalities are creating contingency plans should the Town of Brookhaven’s plans to close its landfill come to fruition. Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) has said it could close in less than a decade.

Suffern-based SCS Engineers partnered with Smithtown officials to release the draft study Sept. 13 with the intention to draft a zoning ordinance that would allow for its construction.  Town code does not currently allow for any composting or organic waste facility.

“This is a scoping meeting to look at all the aspects of it and, at some point, the town board will make a decision whether or not we want to have the use of a facility like that put into the town code,” Wehrheim said. “We’re just trying to get out in front of it now so that eight or nine years down the road we will have a remedy for it to take care of our solid waste.”

Wehrheim said one location the town is considering using is Power Crush Inc. gravel supplier on Old Northport Road in Kings Park. The property’s owner, Toby Carlson, presentedthe town board with a conceptual plan for constructing such a facility in 2014.

The 280-page report suggests a number of sites for the plant. These include: the northwestern corner of Commack and southwestern corner of Kings Park, adjacent to Sunken Meadow State Parkway; the east side of Commack along Route 25/Jericho Turnpike; the southern side of Kings Park; and the southwestern corner of St. James.

There are a number of potential environmental and quality-of-life hazards stemming from indoor organic waste processing facilities, according to the draft study, including odor, groundwater impacts, air emissions, traffic and dust.

These facilities are part of their particular community, they try to take the material that’s out there and recycle it into products that most of us use.” 

— Gregory McCarron

In an internet-based survey of 28 facilities as part of the town’s study, half of the plants had received odor complaints, 11 percent noise complaints, 7 percent cited dust objections and 4 percent alleged traffic grievances. Yet, a nearly equal number of facilities said they had not received any such complaints from the local populace. Another 11 percent refused to provide any details about any complaints.

“All these facilities don’t want these problems, they don’t want unexpected events,” Gregory McCarron, the vice president of SCS Engineers, said. “These facilities are part of their particular community, they try to take the material that’s out there and recycle it into products that most of us use.”

To try to mitigate  complaints and accidents, organic waste facilities have a number of management practices they employ. These may include building and maintaining vegetable buffers to allay dust issues or scheduling deliveries to lessen traffic issues.

Nearly half of the indoor organic waste processing facilities that responded to Smithtown’s survey said they use some type of air treatment system. In addition, 81 percent reported they have specific facility design-related methods to reduce odor.

“The [best management practices] are certainly effective in mitigating, at least to some extent, those impacts,” Allyson Murray, an environmental planner for Smithtown, said.

In the course of the study, Murray visited three organic waste processing facilities in North America. The most modern facility she visited was in Toronto, Canada, which operated as an  anaerobic digester. Typical composting is aerobic, meaning it uses bacteria that require air to help break down the organic waste. Modern anaerobic composting uses airless containers in both wet and dry environments. Murray said she smelled very little odor on location and the noise was kept to a minimum.

We always do things patchwork on Long Island. I think we need a more holistic approach.” 

— Adrienne Esposito

“It’s a different kind of technology — the kinds of impacts are of a different kind,” Murray said.

Linda Henninger, the president of the Kings Park Civic Organization, attended a Sept. 13 meeting held at Smithtown Town Hall to inform local civic groups about the potential organic waste facility. She said that because the idea is still in its early stages she will keep Kings Park residents up to date on any potential hazards.

“Our mission is to look out for the people in our community,” Henninger said. “We’re continuing to educate ourselves on the issue.”

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of the environmental advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment, questioned why there are not larger conversations happening on the county or state level to determine just how many facilities Long Island requires and where would be the best location for one.

“In the next few years, every person on Long Island will have to know where our garbage goes,” she said. “We always do things patchwork on Long Island. I think we need a more holistic approach.”

Murray said the town plans to release the final version of the survey by the end of 2018.

Town recycling program expands North Shore reach, teaming up with Huntington village to save money

A worker sorts through waste at Brookhaven Town's recycling facility. File photo

Smithtown linked up with yet another North Shore community this week as it expands its role in the single-stream recycling program on Long Island.

The town board voted Tuesday to allow an intermunicipal agreement with the incorporated Village of Lloyd Harbor for participation in its single-stream program, making Smithtown’s recycling team that much larger. The town has already teamed up with the neighboring Brookhaven Town and the Huntington village of Asharoken over the last several months.

Town officials said Lloyd Harbor Mayor Jean M. Thatcher approached Smithtown with hopes of getting its hands on the single-stream wealth. The village currently collects about 365 tons of recycling each year.

Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) inked a deal with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) earlier this year, buddying up to reduce waste by recycling more efficiently via Brookhaven’s new state-of-the-art facility, operated by Green Stream Recycling in Yaphank.

Under the single-stream system, residents can put all recyclables at the curb together, rather than sorting paper from bottles and cans. The result is more residents recycling more materials.

Russell Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental director, said Lloyd Harbor’s recycling will be added to Smithtown’s recyclables for shipment to the Brookhaven plant. Lloyd Harbor would not pay a tip fee, nor receive any revenue for the deal, Barnett said.

“Village residents would enjoy the convenience of single-stream recycling, mileage for the village truck would be reduced and the environment would benefit from increased recycling and reduced vehicle emissions,” he said in a statement. “Smithtown would retain the $15 per ton paid by Brookhaven for recyclables delivered to the Green Stream Recycling plant to cover handling and transportation costs.”

Barnett said the town has seen a dramatic increase in recycling since penning the Brookhaven deal. And the Lloyd Harbor agreement was not a new discussion either, as Barnett said Smithtown has already finalized similar agreements with the local villages of Asharoken, Nissequogue, Head of Harbor and The Branch.

“We’ve gotten a number of calls from residents expressing support for the new program as being more convenient to them,” Barnett said in an earlier interview. “It saves Smithtown money in many ways.”

Barnett said Smithtown’s expenses have gone down nearly $600,000 annually because of single-stream’s benefits. Since joining Brookhaven, Smithtown has been shipping its recyclable waste to the Yaphank facility instead of handling the materials within the town, costing more in labor expenses.

The single-stream recycling system, which has been nicknamed the Green Stream Machine, can process 48 tons of material per hour.

In June 2014, Brookhaven Town officials announced the town’s recycling rates had increased by nearly 25 percent since the program’s launch in January 2014, therefore saving taxpayers more than $287,000 to date.
Romaine said earlier this year that solid waste was an ongoing concern in the town of Brookhaven and single-stream helped to address that, increasing the overall amount of garbage being recycled by nearly 25 percent.

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