Recycling: How the Waste Is Handled

State mandates separation but leaves enforcement to towns
One idea for those wishing to increase their recycling is to bring used motor oil to the East Hampton Town Recycling Center, where it will be picked up and resold by Strebel’s, a waste-hauling company. Carrie Ann Salvi

    With Earth Day just past and the number of second homeowners increasing as the calendar moves toward summer, The Star went on a fact-finding mission to find out how garbage is handled on the South Fork. Although recycling has been reported as declining on Long Island in recent years, officials in East Hampton, Southampton, and Shelter Island report their towns are doing a good job. Just what happens to the garbage collected by commercial carters is, however, less understood.
    According to Section 120-aa of the New York State Consolidated Laws, local municipalities are mandated to adopt laws or ordinances that require source separation and segregation of recyclable or reusable material from solid waste. The towns are required to have solid waste management plans approved by State Department of Environmental Conservation (rather amusingly known as SWAMP), plus a description of a “comprehensive recycling analysis.”
    The state says refuse and recyclables should not be commingled on carters’ trucks. Separate containers are to be used or pickup scheduled on different days. But commercial carters do not always comply. It has been explained that they don’t have enough trucks or appropriate ones to keep waste separated.
    Since the towns are responsible for enforcing their own laws, and since they require separation, commercial carters rarely use South Fork facilities. Southampton Town does not let them into its facilities at all. East Hampton and Shelter Island welcome refuse and recyclables from carters.
     According to an employee of East End Sanitation, based in Westhampton, most of the commercial carters take waste to a transfer station run by Eastern Resource Recycling in Yaphank, where it is sent down a chute and sorted. Winters Brothers (now Progressive Waste Solutions),  one of the major carters on eastern Long Island, uses several facilities. Even those carters that advertise recycling explain that the materials they pick up are sorted elsewhere. The Web site of Go Green Sanitation, for example, indicates that the company picks up metal, glass, and paper on different days, but it also states that the waste “is transported to a D.E.C.-regulated facility where it is sorted, processed, and recycled to the highest standards.” Dump on Us Recyclers is operated by Winters Brothers.
    For those who self-haul the by-products of work and life to local recycling centers, Shelter Island’s center accepts the widest range of refuse and has the most user-friendly hours. It is open seven days a week, from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m., with an exception only for Thanks­giving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. While two of the four centers in Southampton Town are open seven days, its other two, and East Hampton’s, are closed Wednesdays and are only open until 4 p.m.
    Southampton and Shelter Island offer free recycling, with a per-bag or weigh-in fee for everything else. Bags range from $1.25 to $3.75 on Shelter Island, and $1.50 to $2.90 in Southampton, depending on their size. East Hampton charges householders $100 a year for the first vehicle, with reduced prices for others. Commercial users have an option of $25 per trip, or permits ranging from $150 to $250 annually.
    Plastic grocery bags have been banned for use in Southampton Town since April 2011, and East Hampton Village followed suit in February 2012. Hard tops of plastic containers are not recyclable, nor are plastics without a number in a recycling logo, nor any plastic or paper that has come into direct contact with food or bodily fluids.    East Hampton and Southampton Town accept only plastic identified with the numbers 1 or 2 within the recycling logo, while Shelter Island accepts number 1 through 7. Jay Lin Card, the Shelter Island commissioner of public works, said he gets less money for plastics coded 3 through 7, but bales and recycles them nonetheless.    
    It turns out that earth-friendly recycling provides the towns with some income. East Hampton Town’s recycling center runs on a surplus, according to Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who said that sales of recyclables totaled $169,570 in 2011 and an estimated $159,066 in 2012. 
    Southampton Town’s waste management program is based on the principle that expenses should equal revenues, said Christine Fetten, director of municipal works. Also with a break-even budget, Mr. Card said he nevertheless expects about $10,000 profit from the Island’s recycling efforts.
    Ms. Overby serves as liaison to East Hampton’s litter committee. She said its agenda recently included public service announcements to inform residents about recycling matters, such as free recycling of shrink wrap from winterized boats, and a recycling project for St. Michael’s new senior citizens housing complex in Amagansett. She is also working with the Montauk Chamber of Commerce on a pilot recycling program for Main Street, where businesses or individuals can sponsor recyclables bins to stand beside trash bins.    
     The best form of recycling is said to be reuse. “To reuse material for the purpose for which it was originally intended or to recycle material that cannot be reused” is second in the order of preference for management of solid waste according to the state solid waste management. Yet Shelter Island’s center is the only one among the three towns to have an area where residents can drop off goods that others may find useful. Southampton and East Hampton have discontinued theirs, citing the expense of monitoring the areas, safety and legal issues, and reporting that some residents abused the privilege by disposing of items unfit for reuse.
    Mr. Card argues that the overall benefit outweighs the hassles. He considers the service so important, in fact, that the town recently installed a roof over its “goody pile.” The Island also allows “pickers” to go through piles of refuse, providing they sign a liability waiver and wear a fluorescent vest, loaned by the department.    
    Unwanted clothes are accepted at all centers, collected in bins for St. Vincent de Paul or Big Brothers and Sisters, which pick up weekly.
    All three towns accept and process brush and leaves into mulch and compost, which is either sold inexpensively or given without charge to the public. Finely ground glass is offered free of charge at the Shelter Island center, to be used as fill or for the replacement of gravel in driveways. Mr. Card said he plans to recycle glass for use in lengthy, horizontal drainage projects in the future.
    An obvious solution to protecting the earth and water supply is keeping harsh materials out of the ground. All towns schedule STOP days (Stop Throwing Out Pollutants), yet only Shelter Island offers them on a regular basis, the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
    Hazardous materials, such as automotive fluids, cleaners, pesticides, nail polish, paints (other than latex), and shoe polish, can be properly disposed on a STOP day, but on Shelter Island the center will accept these materials almost any day of the week as long as an attendant has the time to monitor what comes in.
    East Hampton has one or two STOP days a year, and Southampton has one per year at each of its locations, with dates that span from April through October.
    Waste oil from cars, on the other hand, a product that can be reused 20 times, is accepted year-round for free by all three towns, and recycled by companies such as Strebel’s, which loads its truck bimonthly in East Hampton, tests for halogens and cleanliness in Westhampton, and resells it. Electronic waste, described as anything with an on/off button, is accepted at no charge and resold by all three towns, as are metals of all kinds.
     Shelter Island’s recycling center will stage an annual green expo in May, where residents may bring paper to be shredded, and learn about earth-friendly options. Improvements to the center, which are expected soon, include solar panels over an improved sorting area. The work was accomplished with a grant.