The Town of Smithtown, in partnership with the Smithtown Central School District, embarked on phase two of its first STEM program partnership. On  Dec. 2, students in Kimberly Williams’ Marine Biology class at High School West, got an inside look at the Town’s Recycling and Solid Waste process at Smithtown Municipal Services Facility as it relates to the environment and the major challenge Long Island will face, once the Brookhaven landfill closes in 2024.

Sanitation Supervisor Neal Sheehan and Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator, Mike Engelmann led a hands-on experiential learning trip with marine biology teacher, Kimberly Williams. Students saw the process of what happens to waste once it leaves the curbside, the many different materials which Smithtown recycles, challenges of fluctuating recycling markets, and the harmful impacts which can occur without personal awareness and responsibility.

“This was the first of several STEM programs, together with the school district and it couldn’t have been better received. This generation is very conscious of critical environmental issues, like protecting the watershed, and Long Island’s impending waste crisis. Bringing their lesson plans from the chalk board to the real world, so students can witness the benefits of their hard work before their eyes, is not only exciting… It’s beneficial to the community they call home. I’m especially grateful for the School Districts partnership in this phenomenal learning experience for our youth,” said Supervisor Ed Wehrheim.

The day began with a basic understanding of where solid waste and recycling goes once it leaves the curb at home. Students learned about the recycling markets, recent changes the Nation was forced to make once China closed the doors to the U.S. industry and the consequences of contaminated materials being disposed of in a country without the same regulations as the United States. The Smithtown HS West marine biology students had an excellent, previous understanding of plastics pollution happening in our oceans. Neal Sheehan and Mike Engelmann gave an in depth presentation on the upcoming closure of the Brookhaven Landfill, the harmful and invasive environmental impacts of trucking waste off the Island, and the possible solutions to expand recycling and removing ash off the Island.

“This was the most fun I’ve had at work in years. First, I can’t believe how engaged the kids are. This generation is so aware of the impacts we as humans have on our local environment and they are eager to solve the problems at hand. I’m very excited to work with the class on the final stage of the partnership. I have a hunch we’ll have some excellent new employees working in the various fields of environmental planning, and engineering in the very near future!,” said Neal Sheehan, Sanitation Supervisor.

The class toured the Municipal Services Facility (MSF) where they saw cardboard and paper being sorted, and learned the do’s and don’ts of recycling properly. Students got an eagle eye view of the various material drop sites residents can utilize, such as electronic waste and ​​household appliances, construction and demolition, and glass. From the top of the hill, they observed the massive wood chipping operation, which is made from residential brush and tree branch collection and given away to residents for free. Additionally, students got to see groundwater monitoring locations, located at the former landfill site. The Town is required to monitor the underlying groundwater as a part of the post-closure care period. At the end of the tour, Smithtown Environmental Planner, Liam Trotta took a drone up in the air to show students the Solar array and wind turbine located on the grounds.

“It really makes all the difference when you get to physically see the whole operation right in front of you. We could see the concern and surprise on each student’s face, despite their face masks.  Concerned when they learned that the average Long Islanders is responsible for almost five pounds of waste in one day… Pleasantly surprised when they saw just how much we in Smithtown reuse and recycle, and even happier to learn that their solid waste was being recycled into energy at Covanta. But, when we explained the environmental and economical impacts of trucking the remaining ash and C & D off Long Island, you could hear a pin drop in the room. They understand that a clock is officially ticking to implement a solution… and they are very eager to tackle the issue at hand,” said Mike Engelmann, Smithtown Solid Waste Coordinator.

The STEM Partnership takes a hands-on approach to real world environmental issues affecting the community, utilizing the branches of science in order to apply possible ideas or solutions to improve the problem. Such topics covered include solid waste & recycling, invasive species, stormwater runoff, nitrogen pollution and water quality. Phase One is a simple introduction video presentation for students to understand the scope of each issue. Phase Two involves site and case studies where students witness each issue in person and have the opportunity to ask questions which are answered by official Town experts in each field. Phase Three is conducted in the classroom where students will present solutions to each concern. At every stage of the partnership, the Town and School district work in tandem to help students apply lesson plans to each real world scenario. The Town of Smithtown hopes to expand this program to all local school districts who are interested.

Photos from Town of Smithtown