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Recycling

Climate activist Greta Thunberg

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Evidence of my own failure sits in plain sight on my desk. I believe in recycling, in saving the planet, in doing what’s right for me, my children and for future generations.

I readily agree that using one-time plastic pollutes the world and kills marine creatures. And yet, here, sitting on my desk, are two plastic water bottles from one-time-use plastics.

I will, of course, recycle them, but that’s not the point. Why can’t I walk the walk if I talk the talk? It’s not enough to believe in something or to nod in agreement as I read articles about conserving ecosystems, protecting biodiversity and reducing our — no, my — carbon footprint. I could and should do something about it. For example, I should use, clean and reuse the same cup, cutting back on waste.

I speak with people regularly about conservation when I write the Power of Three column for TBR News Media. Often, I ask in the context of their findings about climate change, the atmosphere or biodiversity, what kind of car they drive or how they live their lives. Interviewees sometimes chuckle anxiously, share their concerns about flying to research meetings, and sigh that they should do more. Well, maybe the better way to describe it is they should live differently.

We all think good thoughts, but those thoughts alone don’t change the world. The environment isn’t self-cleaning, the planet has limited space and finite resources, and we should look closely in the mirror at our own decisions and actions.

I read about 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who came to the United Nations and delivered an impassioned speech, challenging leaders to do more and to protect the world for her generation. The teen’s words spoke volumes, as she demanded accountability and passed judgment, from the younger generation on up, for the failings of all of us who haven’t heeded the warnings.

Despite her young age, she has walked the walk. She traveled by boat to the United Nations in New York aboard a zero-emission yacht because she refuses to use a mode of transportation — flying — that emits carbon dioxide. She also went to Davos, Switzerland, for 32 hours aboard a train, again limiting her contribution to fossil fuel emissions. Each of those options might not be practical for many people, but they show her commitment and passion.

We live with a predicament: We see and acknowledge what we believe are our principles, and then we take actions that at times conflict with those beliefs.

That extends beyond the world of climate change and conservation. We often have a chance to see the disconnect between what we say and what we do when our children — or someone else’s children — point them out to us. We don’t want our children texting while they’re driving and yet they sit next to us or in the backseat and see us connecting through our phones with work colleagues or with people waiting to meet us for dinner.

It is also why any kind of poll isn’t completely accurate. We might say one thing, but do the opposite for a host of reasons, including not wanting to tell a cheerful stranger on the other end of the phone what we intend to do.

We recognize the importance of supporting ideas. The challenge, however, comes when we have the chance to choose between the easier option — a plastic bottle of cold water — or the one that supports our beliefs.

When we see our failures of principle, the question is: What are we going to do about it?

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) discusses local issues with Three Village Civic Association members. Photo by Maria Hoffman

Residents filled the community room in the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library June 3 as the Three Village Civic Association hosted a conversation with Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) on all things townwide. Residents and Romaine were given the opportunity to discuss the latest issues impacting the Three Village area and beyond.

Here are some important topics Romaine brought up during the conversation.

Route 25A corridor study

The town is conducting a two-phase study, starting from the Smithtown line to Nicolls Road. The second phase of the project will focus on the rest of Route 25A to the Poquott line. The origins of the study date back to 2016.

“That, to me, is a very crucial thing as it sets the future of this town — I would like to see more urgency in it,” he said. “I feel like it has lagged.”

The Brookhaven supervisor said he believes one of the reasons for the holdup is that the county is currently doing a retail study on the area.

“I haven’t seen the study but people who have seen it have told me that the study will conclude that this area is under-retailed,” he said. “I’m no expert but I believe we are over-retailed, I think we have enough and don’t need additional retail development.”

Romaine said the corridor study is very important and urged residents to be involved in the process. He also brought up zoning concerns.

“One thing I learned during my time as a supervisor is that zonings are forever,” he said. “Once you zone something, you can’t take it away.”

Romaine hopes that the corridor study will get done by the end of 2019 or the beginning of 2020.

Smithtown Gyrodyne development

Romaine expressed concern with the proposed development of the 62-acre Flowerfield property, owned by Gyrodyne LLC and adjoining Route 25A in St. James, which is in the Town of Smithtown.

“I am opposed to the development that would have any interconnection to any roads that would lead to Stony Brook Road,” he said. “We do not need any additional traffic on Stony Brook Road at all. If it connects to Stony Brook Road, it would be a disaster.”

“I don’t want to see it overdeveloped, Romaine added.

Similarly, on the topic of traffic on Stony Brook Road, he said that he proposed the need for a turning lane on Oxhead Road so university students can make a left turn onto Nicolls Road. Also, he has proposed to the county to develop a third lane from Route 347 to the Stony Brook campus to alleviate traffic jams.

Stony Brook University housing

Romaine said he still had a few issues with the university regarding student housing. One idea he proposed was the school could require all non-commuter students who are freshmen to be mandated to live on campus.

“We have a lot of students who are coming from other countries,” he said. “They may be having their first experiences in this country here.”

The other issue he touched on is rooming houses, which he said are illegal in the Town of Brookhaven.

“We have spent a lot of time in the past trying to crack down on these houses,” he said.

Romaine said these owners have sometimes put up to eight or 10 students in these houses.

“A lot of times we shut these houses down — it goes empty in the summertime and then back in the fall it gets filled up again,” he said. “I hope the next university president will have a stricter policy when it comes to rentals.”

Proposed passive park

Recently, the Town of Brookhaven approved a resolution to allow Suffolk County to begin the process of purchasing land parcels which includes an old derelict building on the southeast corner of Gnarled Hollow Road on Route 25A. The resolution also authorizes the town to demolish the buildings on the property and maintain and manage the parcel as an open-space passive park.

Recycling

Residents were wondering what the town is doing to tackle the issue of recycling.

“The recycling market collapsed last year when China stopped accepting 95 percent of recycled products,” Romaine said.

The supervisor said they have looked at a few options, but nobody wanted what they had. The town had to reevaluate its recycling program and see what still had value.

“We went back to dual stream and ended glass pickup because there really hasn’t ever been a true market for glass,” he said.

Romaine mentioned the town had found a potential suitor in New Jersey that would take some of the collected glass and use it as an industrial abrasive.

The Brookhaven supervisor said he would be open to discussing the recycling topic in more detail at a future meeting.

Graphic by TBR News Media

By Sara-Megan Walsh and Kyle Barr

The three North Shore towns of Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown are grappling with how to best recycle in 2019 after Brookhaven’s facility ground to a halt in October 2018. 

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 that month, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor Green Stream Recycling prematurely terminated its 25-year agreement to operate the town’s recycling plant in Yaphank. The announcement came as collected recyclables piled up like mountains outside the Yaphank facility as China’s new National Sword policy took effect, implemented in January 2018, which set strict contamination limits on recyclable materials it would accept. Up until then, China had been the world’s largest importer of recycled materials, and now local towns had to scramble to find a new market to sell to.

All three towns solicited bids from recycling companies in the hopes of finding the most efficient and green solution for its residents. 

The result is Brookhaven, Huntington and Smithtown have all taken slightly different approaches based on what services they’ve been offered. Residents have been puzzled by new recycling schedules, as the townships are still attempting to explain what has changed with their recycling and how it will impact the future.

Brookhaven

Once the bottom of the recycling market fell out from China’s decision, Brookhaven was caught directly in the storm that followed, with the Green Stream facility being the center of multiple towns’ recycling efforts.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable,” said Christopher Andrade, the town’s recycling commissioner. “[China] went down from 5 percent contamination to 0.5 percent. It wasn’t the equipment that caused the problem, it was the standard that caused the problem.”

At the Jan. 17 Brookhaven Town Board meeting, council members unanimously voted to sign a $760,000 contract with West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to take their materials to Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. 

The new standards mean Brookhaven residents can only put out the most common No. 1 and 2 plastics, which are collected together with aluminum such as food cans. Paper products are collected separately. The town asked that any unclean paper products such as used pizza boxes be thrown out with regular trash instead. Glass is no longer being picked curbside by the town, and instead can be placed at one of seven drop-off points located around the town.

“It’s not the system that so much changed, as much as what was allowable.”

— Chris Andrade

To advertise these changes, Brookhaven took out newspapers ads and broadcasted the changes on radio, television and social media at the tail end of 2018. The town is planning another media blitz for 2019, including another mailer to all residents along with additional newspaper and radio ads. The annual mailer sent to Brookhaven residents, which includes information about the new recycling system, costs $30,000. Otherwise the town has spent approximately $12,000 on newspaper ads and roughly $10,000 on radio ads so far. Andrade said the town is continuing to advertise the changes.

Further changes to Brookhaven’s recycling system could again appear on the horizon. Matt Miner, chief of operations, said the town is looking for means of getting its recycling facility restarted, though this would require a new contractor to partner with Brookhaven. 

Andrade said he hopes to have the facility running again before the six-month contract with Smithtown is up. In addition, the recycling commissioner said he is awaiting news of the current litigation between the town and Green Stream over the voided contract.

For now, Brookhaven is sticking with dual stream, as officials said single-stream recycling resulted in a worse quality product that at this point was near impossible to sell.

For more information on recycling, visit Brookhaven’s video on recycling.

Smithtown

The Town of Smithtown opted to take a unique approach to dual-stream recycling by taking on two different contracts in hopes of getting their best payout for recycled materials. 

In December, Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) signed a six-month contract with Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island to pick up all collected paper and cardboard recycling in exchange for paying the town $30 per ton. These collections are expected to net Smithtown approximately $177,000 per year, if they choose to extend the contract. 

Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

The town entered a separate contract with Islandia-based Trinity Transportation, which will take unprocessed curbside metals and plastics, limited to plastics Nos. 1 and 2, with $68 per ton being paid by the town, at a total cost of approximately $104,000 per year. 

Overall, the combination of two contracts along with money received from Brookhaven for shipping their recyclables for pickup, will net the town approximately $178,500 per year in total, according to town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. 

Residents who wish to recycle their glass bottles and containers can drop off materials at three locations throughout town: Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park, Town Hall and the Highway Department building on Route 347 in Nesconset.  

Smithtown Town Board has budgeted $16,000 for its public campaign regarding the return to dual-stream, the least of any township but also with the smallest population to reach. Garguilo said many of the graphics and printed materials have been designed in-house, which has helped save money. She added that the supervisor and town officials will be speaking with senior citizen groups and community associations throughout early 2019 to help re-educate residents who may not be technologically savvy. 

For more information on recycling, go to Smithtown’s video on the subject.

Huntington 

After the Yaphank plant’s closure, the Town of Huntington signed a two-year contract with Omni Recycling of Babylon returning to a dual-stream process with papers and cardboard being collected on alternate weeks from plastics, aluminum and glass. The town’s total recycling costs will depend on how well the town can re-educate residents and their compliance, according to Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R).

“The only vendors continuing single-stream recycling would have trucked it off Long Island at a cost of $120 to $135 a ton,” he said. “It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.” 

“It’s a matter of re-educating the public and getting them used to the old system again.”

— Chad Lupinacci

Lupinacci said to stick with a single-stream process would have cost the town approximately $1.7 million to $2 million a year based on bids received from contractors. As such, the town decided to move to a dual-stream process where its costs will be determined by how much of the collected material is clean enough to be repurposed. The town will receive $15 per ton of recyclable papers and cardboard delivered to Omni Recycling, and be billed $78 per contaminated ton as determined by the facility. 

“We require lids and covers on the recycling bins to reduce contamination from dirt and moisture,” the supervisor said. “Soiled and moldy paper are not recyclable.” 

The Town of Huntington expects to collect 900,000 tons of paper and cardboard from its residents. Assuming that 80 percent will be clean enough to recycle, Lupinacci said the town will wind up paying out approximately $32,000 for its paper goods. 

Unlike Brookhaven and Smithtown, Huntington town residents can continue to put all plastics, Nos. 1 through 7, and glass bottles out for curbside pickup. Based on an average of 550,000 tons collected annually, the town will pay $75 a ton, at a cost of $412,500 a year, to recycle these materials. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks.”

— Chad Lupinacci

The Town of Huntington has set aside nearly $86,000 in 2019 — more than Brookhaven and Smithtown combined — to educate its residents about the return to dual stream. According to Huntington’s website, dual-stream recycling is the collection of bottles, cans and plastics one week, with paper and corrugated cardboard the following week. Half that budget will be paid by a grant obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Lupinacci. To date, the town has spent $1,000 on social media ads and roughly $43,000 on printed materials including direct mailers and calendars. 

The supervisor said it seems to be paying off. 

“Omni-Westbury, [which] does our collection, said the quality of our first week’s recyclables was better than expected,” Lupinacci said. 

The first collection of papers and cardboard in January yielded 104 tons, only 10 percent of which was considered contaminated, according to the supervisor. 

“I think people are adjusting, but it will take a few weeks,” he said. 

For more information on recycling, watch Huntington’s video on recycling.

Glass: Is it worth collecting? 

Glass is a product many town officials have found difficult to sell, as there’s not much market for it.

Brookhaven and Smithtown are no longer accepting it as part of curbside pickup, but rather asking their residents to bring glass bottles to various drop-off locations. Collections at these locations has increased, according to Miner, and Brookhaven Town has installed larger containers to meet that demand.

To date, Brookhaven has sent two pilot shipments with Jersey City-based Pace Glass Recycling, and Miner said the town is looking to set up some sort of long-term contract.  Andrade said the town is not currently making money from sending the glass to Pace, but the only costs incurred are from the town employees hauling the product up to New Jersey.

“This is actually a recycling of the glass, which most of the towns on Long Island have not been able to achieve,” Miner said.

Andrade added there is a chance Brookhaven could land a deal with the New
Jersey-based company.

“You have to establish relationships, so we’re still in the beginning of the dance there,” the recycling commissioner said. “They’re taking a look at the quality of our material … they’re liking the material so I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Smithtown elected officials renewed a prior inter-municipal agreement with Brookhaven at their Jan. 24 meeting, agreeing to ship the town’s collected glass to their neighbor for processing. 

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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Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

Smithtown residents will soon be asked once again to separate their recyclables as town officials have chosen to return to dual-stream recycling in January 2019.

Town of Smithtown officials held a special meeting Nov. 20 where they announced their finalized bids for its recycling contracts. The town board tapped West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Systems of Long Island, who have agreed to take the town’s unprocessed newspaper and cardboard in exchange for paying $30 per ton, or approximately $177,000 a year to the town. Another company, Islandia-based Trinity
Transportation, will be handling the town’s unprocessed curbside metals and plastics, with $68 per ton being paid by the town, costing approximately $104,000 per year in expenses, according to the final documents.

“Working together with our fellow municipalities and villages is, for us, a win-win opportunity.”

— Ed Wehrheim

The bids are part of a partnership with the towns of Brookhaven and Southold. Brookhaven will use its own contractor to ship its recyclables to Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. Brookhaven will pay the town $5 per ton, or $130,000 a year for its expected tonnage. Smithtown estimates there will be 45 of deliveries per week from Brookhaven, totaling approximately 500 tons of material. Brookhaven announced it will be moving back to dual-stream as of Nov. 28 and has already been issuing notices to its residents.

“Smithtown has always had a phenomenal relationship with the Town of Brookhaven and Supervisor [Ed] Romaine,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said. “Working together with our fellow municipalities and villages is, for us, a win-win opportunity. We help our neighbors who have helped us for so many years and we avail ourselves to favorable pricing which alleviates any burden on the taxpayer.”

Smithtown moved away from dual-stream in 2014 when it finalized a recycling contract with Brookhaven and has been left without a recycling-service provider since Oct. 29 when Green Stream Recycling, Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, voided its contract with the town. Smithtown, among numerous other local municipalities, had an agreement to sell all its recyclables through Green Stream for a $180,000 annual profit.

The new contracts approved Nov. 20, including the money from Brookhaven, will deliver $178,517 in revenue for Smithtown per year, according to town officials.

Under the new intermunicipal agreement, the townships will no longer be collecting glass for recycling. If Smithtown residents wish to recycle glass bottles or containers, they will be asked to take it to one of three locations: the Municipal Services Facility building at 85 Old Northport Road in Kings Park; the town Highway Department building at 758 Smithtown Bypass in Nesconset; or Town Hall, located at 99 W. Main St. in Smithtown. The town estimates that it will cost $23,850 annually to dispose of this glass

Russell Barnett, the town’s recycling coordinator, previously told TBR News Media that glass is a major contaminate to other recyclables when it is mixed in with other materials in single-stream. Not only does broken glass wear on processing machinery, it is difficult to remove should it become entangled in a soft product like paper.

The recycling market changes constantly, and we have to be prepared.”

— Nicole Garguilo

The town signed a six-month contract with these two companies, including an option to renew for an additional six months, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. This was intentionally done in case the recycling market changes in the future.

“The recycling market changes constantly, and we have to be prepared,” she said.

Starting immediately, the two garbage carting companies will begin taking the recyclables that have been accumulating since Oct. 29 at Smithtown’s Municipal Services Facility, sorting it for the town, and processing it.

The town plans to begin a public information blitz before the new recycling system goes into effect, according to Garguilo, including social media spots, informational mailing flyers and information on the official Smithtown phone app to inform residents on the details of what recyclables they can put out on which days.

Since Oct. 29 the Town of Smithtown has been piling up residents’ recyclables at its Municipal Services Facility in Kings Park. File Photo by Kyle Barr

With bids in for the Town of Smithtown recycling contract, town officials have a big decision to make that may change how and when residents take their bins to the curb.

“Perhaps there’s a market for it — perhaps these bidders have a place where they can bring it,” Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) said prior to the opening of the bids.

The Town of Smithtown has been left without a recycling-service provider since Oct. 29 when Green Stream Recycling, the Town of Brookhaven’s recycling contractor, voided its contract with the town. Smithtown, among other local municipalities, had an agreement with Brookhaven to sell all its recyclables through Green Stream for a profit. Now, Smithtown has been left without a recycling contract and has been dumping all its recyclables at the Municipal Services Facility located on Old Northport Road in Kings Park. The facility has approximately two-to-three weeks before it is full to capacity.

You’re going to be hard pressed after years of single stream to go back to dual stream…”

— Ed Wehrheim

The town unsealed four bids for its recyclable materials Nov. 8. Two bids, received from West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Hauling of Long Island and Islandia-based Trinity Transportation, offered both single-stream recycling and dual-stream recycling. Single-stream recycling is the process of taking all recyclables in a single can and everything would be sorted at a facility. Dual stream requires residents to sort out different types of recyclables, including different kinds of plastics, metals and papers, and putting out each kind of material on different days of the week for collection.

Smithtown officials estimate the town picks up 11,500 tons of recyclables each year. If the town wants to stick with a single-stream recycling process, it may cost close to $1 million to send these materials off for processing. This would be a major difference compared to the small $180,000 in profit it made in annual revenue selling its recyclables to Brookhaven.

Bids received for dual-stream recycling, including both Winter Bros. and Trinity Transportation, propose rates the companies would be willing to pay for each specific product. For example, Trinity would pay the town $68 a ton for its newspaper and cardboard.

Joseph Kostecki, the town’s purchasing director, unseals bids received for the town’s recycling contract Nov. 8. Photo by Kyle Barr

The town calculated it would collect approximately 6,500 tons of paper and 1,900 tons of metal, plastic and glass combined from residents if households were required to sort their own recycling.

Russell Barnett, the town’s recycling coordinator, said one of the options Smithtown is considering is taking glass off the list of curbside materials and setting up a specialized locations where residents can drop off their glass products.

Recycled glass is a major bane for Patricia DiMatteo, owner of Trinity Transportation. She said that recyclable products can easily become contaminated, especially with glass, when collected in a single can. In particular paper, her company’s specialty, becomes easily contaminated by fine pieces of glass crushed so small they’re barely visible to the naked eye, making the product unsellable.

Wehrheim said he doesn’t expect residents to continue recycling at the rate they have under the single-stream process if the town reverts to dual stream.

“You’re going to be hard pressed after years of single stream to go back to dual stream and tell people, ‘Now, you’re going to have go back to the two pails, sort your metal and sort your paper,’” he said. “I think what you’ll see is you’ll lose a large percentage of your recycling.”

While Barnett agreed losing single-stream recycling could result in less participation, he added that changing back to dual stream could improve the overall quality of the product collected, raising its market desirability.

“There are other markets, and you can achieve a China market quality product if you process it well.”

—Patricia DiMatteo

Smithtown began its single-stream process in 2014 when it signed a contract with Brookhaven and the Green Stream facility. Previously, the town had used its own dual-stream recycling processing facility. Barnett said the town is internally discussing bringing that facility back online, but that site was mothballed in 2014. Since then, the facility has aged without use and would require revitalization. In addition, all the town employees who once worked at the facility — 12 in total — have been reassigned to other departments or no longer work for the town.

To make the facility operational would require hiring multiple new employees, which means weighing the costs of salaries and benefits into the price of reopening, according to Wehrheim. Barnett said the town is still calculating the total cost of restarting the plant.

Recycling has been an ongoing issue for Long Island municipalities since the China market, one of the world’s largest importers of recyclables, severely restricted the quality of material it would import. This policy, named National Sword, started in January and its effects have stung local townships hard as of late, but DiMatteo said there are other markets if one knows where to look.

“There is definitely an issue with the China market, no doubt, you have to make a pristine product for them now,” she said. “There are other markets, and you can achieve a China market quality product if you process it well.”

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

By Alex Petroski & Sara-Megan Walsh

Recyclable materials have been building up at the Brookhaven Town recycling plant in Yaphank ever since China stopped accepting imports from American facilities in January, but the future of the facility is even more up in the air now.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said contractor Green Stream Recycling terminated its 25-year contract to operate the Yaphank facility effective Oct. 29 citing financial woes due to market changes. The company signed the agreement with the town in 2013.

“We’re a regional facility — for them to do that it certainly isn’t going to speak well of the future of their waste management business on Long Island,” Romaine said.

The town plans to pursue legal action against the contractor for breach of contract, according to the supervisor.

Green Stream Recycling, owned by principals Joe Winters and Anthony Core, also of Hudson Baylor Brookhaven LLC, did not return a phone call requesting comment.

An aerial view of Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling plant in Yaphank is surrounded by recyclables in August. Photo from Town of Smithtown

Romaine said the town will be putting the contract out for an emergency bid Nov. 1 for a new facility operator, and the town board will select a replacement at a Nov. 2 special meeting.

“They had three years of very good profits, and then as you know more recently there have been changes obviously in the recycling market where most of our recycling goods went,” Romaine said. 

The terms of contract with Green Stream Recycling yielded $20 per ton of processed recyclables, a quarter of which went back to Brookhaven with the remaining 75 percent
redistributed to neighboring municipalities that had agreements with Brookhaven to send their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, Romaine said. The supervisor said the town hadn’t received any money from Green Stream since May, though Brookhaven has continued making payments to other municipalities.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington,” Romaine wrote in an Oct. 23 letter to Huntington Supervisor Chad
Lupinacci (R).

Similar letters were also sent to Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) and the other municipalities that have single-stream recycling agreements with Brookhaven.

John Clark, director of Environmental Waste Management for the Town of Huntington, said the town was previously informed Aug. 23 Brookhaven would not renew the intermunicipal agreement to accept Huntington’s collected recyclables set to expire at the end of this year. Under the terms of the agreement, Huntington received up to $15 per ton of recyclable material delivered to the Yaphank facility.

In 2017, Huntington collected and delivered more than 14,000 tons of material to the single-stream recycling plant that was processed through the intermunicipal agreement. This resulted in more than $152,000 in net revenue, according to town spokeswoman Lauren Lembo.

The town had already issued a request for proposals Oct. 18 in an attempt to find an alternative solution to start Jan. 1, 2019, which may include converting back to dual-stream recycling where residents may be held responsible for sorting their trash again.

The news of Green Stream Recycling ending its contract with Brookhaven will pose only a temporary issue for Huntington, Lembo noted.

“The Town of Brookhaven believes very strongly in the benefits that a municipal recycling program brings to our respective communities and hence the reason we continued acceptance and payment for the material received from the Town of Huntington.”

— Ed Romaine

“We are already in the process of reaching out to potential recycling vendors and other municipalities to execute a two-month agreement that would get us through the end of the year under our single-stream recycling mode,” Lembo said.

Russ Barnett, Smithtown’s environmental protection director, said the town had received a telephone call from Brookhaven Oct. 19 to immediately cease sending recyclables to Brookhaven’s Yaphank facility. Smithtown’s town board plans to issue an emergency request for proposals at its Oct. 25 meeting seeking a new contractor to cart and process its residents’ recyclables, according to spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo. It’s unclear what if any impact this may have on Smithtown’s tentative 2019 budget.

“Residents should continue doing what they are doing right now,” Barnett said. “We’re not asking residents to make any changes.”

Smithtown Town plans to temporarily store all collected materials at its Municipal Services Facility on Old Northport Road in Kings Park until a new carter is found. A new recyclable operator could mean a move back to dual-stream recycling.

“We’ve got a broad solicitation out there to identify what our options might be,” Barnett said. “Whether we will be offered services as an unsorted single-stream recyclables for sorting and purification elsewhere, or whether or not people might propose that prior sorting [by residents] needs to be done.”

A spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said in a statement the agency is working with Brookhaven and the other towns impacted to develop solutions that will allow for processing of existing materials at the site and long-term solutions to continue recycling in the region, as well as working with industry stakeholders to solve the problem of drying up markets for the recycled material.

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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When done drinking a bottled water or soda, we usually make a conscious effort to get it into a recycling bin. No further thought given, our good deed is done. We’ve recycled the plastic bottle rather than throwing it out to sit in a landfill.

The photos released that clearly show the Town of Brookhaven’s Green Stream Recycling facility was nearly buried in mountains of collected recyclables from the residents of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington townships this August are shocking. It should serve as an alarming wake-up call.

This is a direct result of China implementing its National Sword policy to ban the import of recycled plastics. The visual impact of recyclables piling up like trash, and learning some items are now being sent to the landfill, have led us to the conclusion this is an issue that requires careful thought and attention.

We, and we’re sure many of our readers, have lived with the presumption our recycled plastic bottles, aluminum cans and used paper were sorted, cleaned and reformed into reusable materials locally. However, we were blissfully unaware that China imported nearly half of the world’s recyclables to turn into raw goods through its manufacturing economy.

Now, with changing international trade policy, shipping our recyclables — or honestly, still household garbage — halfway around the world is no longer an option. Suffolk County’s townships are struggling to figure out a new way to handle the piles of debris. Finding a new market for these recycled raw materials will pose an obvious challenge. Striking a balance of recycling items beneficial from a fiscal and economic viewpoint while weighing environmental impact is a challenge on the horizon as well.

One of Brookhaven’s recycling staff suggested Suffolk residents need to be more discerning. Get back to the basics of checking plastic bottles for a number inside a triangular arrow on the bottom and rinse all containers out first. It will help improve the value of the recycled material we are trying to sell in a drastically reduced global market.

It’s a good first step. But we need take it one step further.

The most direct way we, as individuals, can help provide a solution to the problem is to cut back on our dependency on one-time use items. It’s been said for years, but we truly need to start regularly grabbing a refillable water bottle rather than a disposable. Think about taking up the “hipster” trend of using Mason jars to store food. Go back to old-fashioned, but traditional Pyrex to store leftovers instead of limited-use thin plastic containers.

These small changes may seem hard at first, but we have proof it’s possible. Sure, every Suffolk resident balked at the idea of paying 5 cents for a plastic bag at retail stores when the policy was implemented in January. In less than a year, it’s seemed to have had a dramatic effect in changing behaviors. Many shoppers now simply carry their own reusable canvas and plastic bags.

Permanent change is necessary if we don’t want to be buried up to our necks in trash on Long Island. Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim (R) has predicted a “garbage crisis” within the next seven to eight years as Brookhaven looks to close its landfill. Let’s be part of the solution, and not the problem. Let’s focus on using reusable products, not recyclable or disposable.

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Here are a couple of things to think about in this new year. First, it is the Chinese Year of the Dog. Each year is related to a zodiac animal within a 12-year cycle, and the Dog is in the 11th position, after the Rooster and before the Pig. Other Dog years include births in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994 and so on. You get the pattern. If you are a Dog, you are undoubtedly loyal, honest, kind, amiable and sincere, although you’re probably not all that good at communications. As a result, sometimes you are perceived as stubborn. However, you make up for that by always being ready to help others.

Enough of that and on to the latest law for Suffolk County. As you have probably experienced by now, wherever you might be shopping and inclined to make a purchase, you will have to add 5 cents to the total if you want a bag. Two bags: 10 cents. Again, you get the pattern. That means if you are shopping in a supermarket or a hardware store or Macy’s, you will need to pay for each bag. We have, however, been trained for such a situation by Costco. For years, those who shop in their warehouse-like stores have carried purchases out to their cars in shopping carts and then loaded the contents into their trunks, one item at a time. Costco has never provided bags, although it has been known to offer boxes when available. The smart ones among us carry cloth bags into the store in advance so we can load cars more efficiently at the end, and I suppose that is what the rest of us will learn to do if we don’t buy the bags. Although the charge is only a nickel, it is irksome because the nickels don’t go toward funding an environmental cause but revert to the store.

So expect to see people crossing parking lots with the items they have just purchased in their hands. While the perennially curious among us will be fascinated to check out what people buy, the instinct to bag a purchase to prove it was paid for rather than whipped off the shelf and out the door will make some of us uneasy. Best to invest in some large and solid cloth bags, which are what they bring to stores in Europe and elsewhere. And by the way, this should be a great help for our local waterways and wildlife since so many plastic bags have caused harm. So BYOB, or “bring your own bag,” and know that you are helping a fish.

On to another topic to consider in 2018. Private schools and universities are going to take a beating from the loss of international students. Total tuition from those students, who generally pay more, will decline as a result of more restrictive immigration policies for those wishing to come to study here. Visa applications are being more carefully scrutinized and foreign students are finding it harder to stay in the United States after graduation. There had been a huge increase in foreign students here, supplying $39 billion in revenue to the U.S. economy last year, but now schools in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries are attracting some of those dollars. The decline in new students nationwide was some 7 percent just this past fall.

That means colleges will have to cut offerings and American-educated grad students who may want to settle here will be lost to the nation. It also means colleges will not be able to help low-income students as much with tuition aid. Diversity is also affected. Enrollment is already falling from China and India, the two biggest sources of students from abroad. Of course this is not only a national issue but also a local one: Stony Brook University is here. Long Island has numerous schools, and with fewer students less money will be spent locally.

Meanwhile enjoy the weather. Let’s celebrate the thaw.