The Southampton Town Board has been talking garbage the past couple of weeks.
According to Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, Southampton is losing money on its recyclables. To remedy the situation, the supervisor proposed, and his fellow board members agreed, to contract with the Town of Islip, which will accept Southampton’s recyclables at its Holbrook plant. The $60 tipping fee per ton does not include the cost of labor involved with collecting and hauling the recyclables from Southampton to Holbrook.
Southampton Town collects 1,300 tons of recyclables annually, according to the resolution the board passed July 14, meaning the town will pay $78,000 to Islip to dispose of the recyclable garbage it collects over the next year.
The Southampton Town Board discussed the resolution at its July 9 meeting.
“We used to get paid or break even on recycled garbage,” Schneiderman told the board. “We may have to start charging a small fee, a one-time fee per year to drop off recyclables.”
Unlike the Town of East Hampton, which sells permits to residents for $115, which allows them to dispose of both recyclable and non-recyclable household garbage at either the facility in East Hampton or the one in Montauk, the Town of Southampton does not sell garbage self-hauling permits.
Instead, residents in Southampton are required to buy town-approved green garbage bags from stores for their non-recyclables. There is no charge to drop off recyclable garbage. There are four Southampton facilities; Sag Harbor, North Sea, Hampton Bays, and Westhampton. Glass bottles, metal cans, and plastic bottles and containers are all co-mingled into one dumpster. Cardboard and mixed paper each have their own dedicated dumpsters.
But, what do you do with the recyclables if no one wants them?
“At that price, $60 per ton, I’m not sure that it is even going to get recycled,” Schneiderman said. “It may go into a landfill somewhere. That is a lot of money we are paying just to get rid of it.”
I understand, John Bouvier said, “that what that means, dollar wise, is important, but I think that is a responsibility that the town has …We are responding to a national issue, a global issue. I think we are all aware of that.”
“I would hate to dissuade people from recycling,” Julie Lofstad said. “It has taken a long time to get people to recycle. I understand the money issues, but I think we need to come up with some way where people aren’t going to say ‘Forget it. I’m never going to recycle again.’ I don’t think we really want that.”
Recycling costs first became an issue when, at the beginning of 2018, China decided that it was no longer going to accept plastics and other recyclable materials from other nations. According to an article written by Cheryl Katz last year for Yale Environment 360, the Chinese made that decision because too many of the plastic containers it was receiving were dirty, making them un-recyclable. In the 25 years before 2018, China had handled about 50 % of the western world’s recyclable waste.
Christine Fetten, Southampton’s town engineer and director of municipal works, explained that Southampton, in the past, would contract out to have its recyclables taken away over a one or two-year period. The problem is that the market is so volatile right now, and long term contracts don’t make sense.
In East Hampton Town, a different process is followed with recyclables. Residents sort them and deposit them in specific dumpsters, one for glass bottles, one for plastic bottles, etc. According to East Hampton Town’s senior office assistant, Susan Miller, the town accepts bids weekly for its recyclables. Cardboard has been selling, bringing at least 30 dollars per ton recently. Metal cans go to scrap metal dealers.
Glass is a problem. According to Fetten, “It is much more viable financially for a manufacturer to make new glass rather than recycle old glass.”
In East Hampton, the glass collected is ground down to a silica-free sand, which the highway department can use for drainage receptacles, Steve Lynch, Superintendent of the Highway Department, told The Independent last year.
The plastics, however, remain a problem for both towns.
Katz wrote in her article for Yale Environment 360, “Even before China’s ban, only 9 percent of discarded plastics were being recycled, while 12 percent were burned. The rest were buried in landfills or simply dumped and left to wash into rivers and oceans.”
The answer, Fetten believes, is moving away from the disposable economy we now live in. “It has to start with the consumer,” Fetten said.
“People are pretty committed to recycling,” she said. “I have to say that the people of the Town of Southampton are very good at that.” Plastics, however, “always end up in somebody else’s backyard. We have to get away from that.”