Brookhaven

Will Glass Get a Second Chance in Long Island Recycling?

by Liz Skolnick

Just before the holidays, glass was abruptly dropped from the curbside recycling collection in the towns of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Oyster Bay, among others. This came as a bit of a shock to faithful recyclers in those towns, many of whom wrote in to me with questions and frustration - “Glass is a valuable material, it’s ridiculous to just throw it out. Isn’t there a better option?” Though some glass-only collection centers had been set up in those towns, the reality is that the glass collected at these centers would be crushed and used for landfill cover or in road paving products, not given a second life as a beverage bottle.

My advice in response was for residents to bring glass bottles to the bottle redemption centers which are usually found outside or in the entryway of grocery stores. These bottles have a better chance of actually being recycled, not simply crushed or trashed. Unfortunately though, this is not always an option for those with mobility issues, and there simply are not enough machines to handle all the glass that now lacks a proper municipal collection service.

But it looks like an opportunity for large-scale separate glass collection may be in the works. Yesterday, Newsday reported that Brookhaven is launching a pilot project with a glass recycling company in New Jersey, to see whether separate, color-coded glass recycling (separating glass into clear, green, and brown) could make economic and environmental sense going forward.

Though recycling and reusing materials pretty much always nets an environmental positive, as long as recyclables are considered a “product” to be bought and sold, recycling any material has to be profitable. Glass has been a tough material because not only has it had little value in recent years, but when collected with other materials like paper and plastic, it can shatter and contaminate those materials, which in many cases makes them worthless or decreases their value. The situation went from bad to much worse when China - for years the US’s main recyclables importer - enacted materials bans and harsh cleanliness restrictions on incoming recyclables. The chain of events that followed led many LI towns to make the switch from single-stream back to dual-stream recycling, and to drop glass from curbside collection.

We at LIRI are anxious to see what success Brookhaven has with its new glass-only pilot program. We hope it proves to be a great new option for making sure this durable, valuable material remains part of a closed-loop recycling system, and that it will make financial sense for all parties involved. If this proves true, the program could really take off and spread to other LI towns that have recently dropped glass.

In the meanwhile, if your town no longer collects glass, we urge you to bring it to your local bottle redemption centers. Press your town officials to consider new glass recycling options, and hold business owners accountable to ensure their reverse-vending machines are in working order. It’s been a rough few months for recycling, but we have options. And, just today, Mayor Cuomo announced plans to expand the state bottle bill to include more kinds of beverage containers, such as those for juice and energy drinks. Some on the island have also suggested we include the region’s wineries and breweries in a future plan for local glass recycling.

Though recycling may not be perfect, and to be sure, lots of glass has recently gone to waste, some creative new strategies seem to hold promise for preventing waste and ensuring the environmental health of the region. It’s been impressive to see the proactivity of Long Islanders who have written to us, or to their local officials and newspapers to talk about how this affects them and try to work out a solution. That kind of energy is what’s needed to move the needle on big environmental issues, recycling and beyond. Thanks for your emails and thanks for doing your part to foster the resiliency and health of the island.

References:

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/brookhaven-town-glass-recycling-trial-1.25936949

http://www.container-recycling.org/index.php/issues/bottle-bills

https://www.newyorkupstate.com/news/2019/01/gov-cuomo-plans-to-ban-plastic-bags-expand-bottle-bill.html

Big Changes in Recycling Come to Suffolk County Towns

by Liz Skolnick

As Newsday reported just before the Thanksgiving holiday last week, three Suffolk County towns have decided to switch from single-stream to dual-stream recycling in light of problems caused by the global recycling crisis. The crisis was itself set into motion by China’s bans on foreign recyclables, which came as a reaction to the high levels of contamination in those imported materials.

Now, instead of throwing all the paper, metal, plastic and glass into one bin, residents of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Southold will be asked to separate paper from metal and plastic, and glass will be dropped entirely from curbside collection. Starting Nov. 28 in Brookhaven, metal and plastic, and cardboard and paper will be picked up on alternating weeks. Dual-stream recycling is expected to begin January 2019 in Smithtown and Southold. The Huntington villages of Lloyd Harbor and Asharoken will also be included in the new joint agreement between the Suffolk County towns.

This development comes after a long and arduous period of upheaval at the Brookhaven Town’s materials recovery facility (MRF), which has received and sorted recyclables from many east end towns for years. As we reported in an earlier post, Green Stream, former operator of Brookhaven’s MRF, recently backed out of its 25-year contract when it found that it was no longer able to sell materials entering the facility, buyers having dried up as a result of China’s bans. This sent Brookhaven’s waste management department scrambling to find a new contractor/buyer for recyclables, as the facility bulged with stockpiled materials. Now, a new joint deal between Brookhaven and Smithtown will allow for dual-separated materials to be stored at Smithtown’s facility, and ultimately be processed by private carters. Southold is expected to sign on after completing its review of the proposal.

Brookhaven has promised that separate municipal glass collection centers will be created in the coming months, with one center at the Town Hall and others scattered between Manorville, Holtsville, Mount Sinai and the Brookhaven hamlet landfill. The glass collected will be crushed to create sand and landfill cover material for municipal use. But some worry that members of those communities will not want to make the extra trip to drop off their glass, asking “Where is the incentive?” With bottle deposit schemes, which have been successful in boosting recycling rates across the country, people are incentivized to redeem bottles with the promise of 5 to 15 cents for each. Brookhaven has not yet outlined any sort of incentivization plan and it seems unlikely that such activity would be municipally financed.

Brookhaven residents can check the following link for details about the new dual-stream recycling program and new collection calendar: https://www.brookhavenny.gov/360/Curbside-Recycling

Note: Brookhaven’s switch back to dual-stream made national news when it was covered by industry news giant Waste Dive earlier this month. Read that article here: New York town switching back to dual-stream program

References:

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/smithtown-brookhaven-southold-recycling-1.23616462

http://longisland.news12.com/story/39495837/sorting-it-out-brookhaven-changes-its-recycling-plan

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/recycling-smithtown-1.23542926


Long Island Recycling Update: Finally Feeling the Global Slump

By Liz Skolnick

Update: (Oct. 23, 2018) Brookhaven materials recovery facility operator Green Stream Recycling has announced that it will cease operations at the plant next week. Facing nearly $2 million of debt to the Town, the company is likely to dissolve. Brookhaven’s plant represents the largest single-stream recycling operation on Long Island. The Town has announced that it will seek a new contractor if Green Stream discontinues its service. Read further here: Brookhaven Recycling Operator Green Stream Expected to Dissolve, Officials Say

As the summer draws to a close, let’s take a minute to check in on the state of recycling on Long Island. Back in the spring, operations on the island had only been minimally affected by China’s ban on 32 types of post-consumer materials — the latest in a series of increasingly austere import bans. In June, the Long Island Recycling Initiative spoke with several recycling processors on the island, who reported that their main product streams of food-grade plastics, scrap metal and paper had not been significantly affected, but that some secondary products, such as the thin plastic bags used to collect other materials, were quickly losing value. Some companies had in fact started to brace for the changes, altering their business plans. Others spoke optimistically of new markets opening up in southeast asia, but as we’ve seen in the intervening months, several of those Southeast Asian countries have enacted bans similar to China’s.

A few months ago, industry news source WasteDive, which has been tracking the bans’ effects on all 50 states, rated the impact on New York as “minimal.” Now it has been bumped up to “heavy” as communities across the state see recycling collection costs soar, municipal contract renegotiations, and more communities electing to cease recycling altogether until markets stabilize, with many promising to “resume the discussion” in 2019. Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), one of New York’s most impressive and successful municipal recycling agencies in recent history, is now facing a $2.5 million deficit for 2019 and contemplating a substantial fee hike at its incinerator, which would ripple financial hardship through the community. The capital region’s largest recycling plant announced over the summer that it would start charging $120 a ton to take mixed recyclables. At an August 29th meeting called by Governor Cuomo to discuss strategic planning in light of the bans, OCRRA Director Andrew Radin predicted that disposal after China could cost NYS communities $78-100 million. Further general meetings on the subject were cancelled, but two targeted meetings on outreach and education, and markets and infrastructure, are now tentatively planned.

This brings us to Long Island — do we continue to enjoy a bubble of smooth sailing as others panic? Not so, unfortunately. Over the summer, the town of Oyster Bay found itself in a battle with long-time trash hauler, Winters Bros., which had threatened to pull out of its municipal contract early citing “unprecedented market shifts” which have made it unprofitable to continue servicing the Town. Last Tuesday, Oyster Bay and Winters Bros. reached an agreement that the hauler will complete its contract until the end of the year. The town will not take advantage of its option to renew thereafter. Winters Bros. had been paying the town $25.08 per ton of collected recyclables, a financial equation which no longer makes sense for the trash hauler as buyers dry up. In Smithtown, worries are also mounting as the Brookhaven recycling facility swells with material that has yet to find a home. Green Stream, the vendor for the facility, which purchases materials by the ton and resells it (historically, to China), finds itself in a bind as it struggles to find new interested parties. And so Winters Bros., part owner of Green Stream, is embroiled in yet another struggle as the market remains volatile. Contracts between Brookhaven and Smithtown on the one hand, and Brookhaven and Green Stream, on the other, are subject to change as this crisis continues to unfold. In the quest to offer a more marketable, higher-quality product, Newsday reports that Smithtown is even considering reopening its shuttered dual-stream recycling facility (dual stream recycling has been associated with cleaner end-products, which fetch a higher price).

It remains to be seen how this upheaval will play out. One thing that’s certain is that it’s not possible to simply return to the status quo. Calls for changes to the way recycling is managed have inevitably found fresh urgency. As many within the waste industry have opined, crisis usually brings innovation, progress borne of necessity. What shape that will take is unclear, but the wake up call has certainly now been heard on Long Island.

Resources:

https://resource-recycling.com/recycling/2018/06/05/import-restrictions-ripple-across-southeast-asia/

https://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2018/09/youll_pay_more_for_garbage_soon_as_global_recycling_crisis_hits_cny.html

https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Call-for-state-aid-to-N-Y-localities-saddled-13192086.php

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/winters-bros-recycling-oyster-bay-contract-1.21131927

https://www.newsday.com/long-island/suffolk/smithtown-recycling-1.21009462

https://www.wastedive.com/news/what-chinese-import-policies-mean-for-all-50-states/510751/