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eco-friendly

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On Feb. 13, parents of Setauket Elementary School students spoke to the board of education about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

The Town of Brookhaven’s recent return to dual-stream recycling has been a wake-up call for many residents, forcing them to take a closer look at food waste and other remnants of daily consumption.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment.”

— Valerie Briston

In an effort to confront this new reality, two Three Village parents spoke to the school board Feb. 13 about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment,” said Valerie Briston, a mother of three. “We are at a point now where we really need to focus on reducing our consumption of resources.”

Briston is working with other Setauket Elementary School parents who have approached their PTA about exploring ways to reuse classroom supplies, reduce the amount of waste at class parties, after-school events and in the cafeteria, and to “examine how things are delivered in eco-friendly packaging.”

Lindsay Day, a mother of two, is one of those parents. She recollected when she was a Setauket student, that she “learned very quickly about the positive environmental impact that waste reduction and recycling have on our delicate Long Island ecosystem.”

This is why, Day said, it is important that sustainability initiatives include education, as well as eco-friendly practices, such as transparent and thorough recycling, school gardens, composting programs to reduce lunch waste and the inclusion of school-grown fruits and vegetables in school meals.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go.”

— Jeff Carlson

The district has been receptive to the parents’ suggestions and will launch a pilot program to increase sustainability at Setauket Elementary School, where the switch will be made from plastic to reusable utensils in the lunchroom.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go,” said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services for the school district.

Plastic cutlery costs the district about half a cent for each piece, Carlson said, adding that the district was able to order metal versions for around 11 cents each. The new reusable utensils would quickly pay for themselves after several uses and even save the district money, he said.

Carlson pointed to the district’s other eco-friendly efforts, such as working with the facilities director and custodial staff to put systems in place to make it easier to separate paper, plastics and metal for recycling. He also said he has spoken with parents at other schools about starting composting programs.

Board president Bill Connors agreed that sustainability is a pressing issue and is here to stay. Following the meeting, he and Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said a task force is “something of interest.” The subject will be on the agenda of the board’s next executive meeting, Pedisich said.

This is not the first time the district has considered sustainability measures. In 2016, the board voted on the third phase of an energy contract with Johnson Controls to install solar panels on all of its buildings. However, the New York State Education Department has only just approved the district’s plans.

The panels, which will generate 2.3 megawatts of electricity, will cost about $7.7 million to install. The state will cover more than $5 million in building aid, and taxpayers will pay about $2.5 million, Carlson said. The installation should generate more than $10 million in savings over the term of the bond, along with additional savings beyond, according to Carlson. Installation is expected to begin this summer.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico, on left, with the new food scrap composters. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

As far as the Town of Brookhaven is concerned, going green is not just a casual practice — it’s a moral obligation to ensure Long Island’s future.

In the last few months, Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) and members of the town board have launched a series of environmentally friendly initiatives and continued ongoing efforts that encourage local residents to
reduce their carbon footprints and preserve the serenity of their surroundings.

“Whenever there are ways to benefit the environment, I’m 100 percent involved [and] I’m blessed by an extremely supportive town board,” Romaine said, highlighting an especially strong partnership with Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point). “I don’t want to say Jane is my environmental soulmate, but she and I are on the exact same page. She is one of my cheerleaders in every manner, shape or form.”

Other environmental actions taken by Brookhaven:

– A 127-acre solar farm called Shoreham Solar Commons will be constructed on the recently closed Tallgrass Golf Course.

– The extension of the Pine Barrens to include 800 acres of national property around the former Shoreham nuclear plant will go forward upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) signed authorization.

A multiyear project to convert all 40,000 of Brookhaven’s streetlights to LED bulbs has begun with 5,000 already converted.

– Through a partnership with U.S Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the town has secured funding to fix stormwater infrastructures along the North Shore, from Miller Place to Shoreham.

– A center at Ceder Beach in Mount Sinai  has been established to grow millions of oysters and sea clams that filter and clean the water.

In May, Bonner held her fifth bi-annual Go Green event at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai. It’s the town’s biggest recycling event where residents can dispose of unwanted medication and prescriptions and recycle old TVs and computers, as well as paper. The e-waste drive gathered 15,000 pounds of electronic waste and shredded 13,580 pounds of paper products and 26 boxes of unwanted pharmaceutical drugs, according to the town.

The councilwoman also hosted a Homeowner’s Guide to Energy Efficiency forum at the center later in the month, educating residents on how to get a free energy audit, affordable home energy improvements and save $1,000 a year on home energy bills. Through this effort, less fossil fuels are used to heat and light homes.

“We take it very seriously,” Bonner said of the town’s green initiatives. “We have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and this transcends party lines. Regardless of party affiliation, we all know we can do a better job of taking care of the planet.”

Aside from providing free compost and mulch to residents at Brookhaven Town Hall, officials also recently utilized a $5,000 grant to rip up the back lawn of the property to plant and restore native Long Island grasses, from which seeds can be collected and used.

In June, the town officially authorized the nonprofit Art & Nature Group Inc. to transform Brookhaven’s historic Washington Lodge property into a community nature center that offers environmental education programs.

Romaine and Councilman Dan Panico (R-Manorville) organized Brookhaven’s Food Scrap Composting pilot program at town hall last month, with hopes to expand it as a townwide initiative.

Through the program, town employees can deposit food waste, such as banana peels and coffee grinds, into organic material collection containers placed throughout the buildings, which are then collected and composted to be used for garden beds around town buildings.

“We must provide alternative waste management solutions like these if we are going to provide a cleaner, greener earth for future generations,” Panico said in a statement.