One family of four in Water Mill that “diligently” recycles said it used one large (33-gallon) green bag each week for its garbage—although they noted that they may have set the world record for how many smaller bags of garbage can be stuffed in that one bag. At a cost of $3 per bag, per week, it represents a significant cost savings over hiring a private carter. Their monthly charges can range from as low as $28 for once-weekly pick up of one rolling cart to as high as around $40 or $50.
East Hampton Town does not use the green bag system, instead charging a town resident $115 for a sticker for a vehicle that allows them to visit the transfer station on an unlimited basis, and dispose of however much waste and recyclables they want—and so offering no financial incentive to separate.
Recycling cardboard and mixed paper, meanwhile, has been a revenue generator for both towns, with Southampton Town netting $65 per ton for cardboard and around $35 per ton for mixed paper from Great Northern Fibers for the past year and a half.
Transfer stations educate residents on what can and what can not be recycled.
Southampton Town does not generate revenue for its co-mingled containers—glass, plastic, aluminum and tin—but recycling those products is still a money-saver, since it removes them from the garbage headed to a landfill, at a much higher cost. Southampton just extended a multi-year contract with the Town of Islip’s dual-stream facility, paying that town $21 per ton to take its co-mingled containers, as compared to the $73 per ton it pays to dispose of the regular waste it collects in the green bags. East Hampton Town pays $90 per ton for disposal of non-recyclable waste.
Jim Heil, who runs the Town of Islip’s recycling facility, praised the self-hauling systems in the Eastern Long Island towns. “If people are truly interested in recycling and dedicated to it, they should take it to the town transfer stations,” he said. “It’s very nice material, and it’s clean.”
Although Great Northern is a frequent buyer of its materials, East Hampton Town also sells more directly to recycling vendors, putting out requests for bids on a regular basis and selling to the highest bidders, so it experiences a bit more fluctuation in its return on recycling. Unlike Southampton, East Hampton also has its own baler, so it can bale its own cardboard and paper and cut out the middleman in the process that Southampton sometimes has to use. East Hampton does not sell glass, but grinds it up on site and allows contractors to take it for use in projects.
Great Northern processes a lot of recyclables from the East Hampton and Southampton town transfer stations.
Susan Miller, who works at the East Hampton Town transfer station, said that the market changes caused by China’s recent moves have certainly made their presence felt locally, as prices for recyclables have plummeted in the last year.
“From last year to this year, it’s drastic,” she said. “We were making big money, but this year, it’s next to nothing, or we’re paying to have it taken away.” The experience is similar in Southampton Town.
But directly landfilling the materials still represents a higher cost—so even at break-even it makes sense for East Hampton to continue collecting recyclable materials from its residents.
The End Point
The multi-stream model of processing recyclables, as set up by the towns’ transfer stations, sets the table for good recycling outcomes, but the hauler is part of that equation as well.
The recyclables that residents drop at the transfer stations go through several stages of processing before they are given a new life—and many of the items don’t make the cut because of small actions taken, or not taken, by consumers.
Meanwhile, the markets for recyclable materials vary widely and can be volatile. The new standards imposed by China have set off a sort of chain reaction in other global markets as well, with other companies trying to follow suit with stricter contamination rates. That makes it even more imperative for consumers to be educated on best recycling practices.
Keeping paper and cardboard dry is key to maintaining its value.
When it comes to cardboard and mixed paper, moisture is the enemy. A pizza box with a large grease stain or a stack of newspapers that got wet with rain will ultimately be filtered out and sent to a landfill. It’s one reason, among many, why single-stream recycling plants are struggling right now—once-valuable products are being lost because of contamination, and higher standards.
An example: In Brookhaven Town, which has municipal garbage and recycling pick-up—and recently announced a return to dual-stream recycling, after running a single-stream program for years—residents were told by the town that they could leave their recycling containers uncovered at the curb.
George Bateman, who ran the Greensteam single-stream recycling facility at the Brookhaven landfill, until it went out of business last month, expressed frustration at that directive. Uncovered cardboard and paper, exposed to the elements, would often arrive at this facility soaking wet and, essentially, worthless. Brokers and mills looking to buy bales of cardboard will send inspectors to insert moisture probes into the bales, and if the water concentration is too high, they move on—and the cardboard goes to a landfill.
The same principle applies to co-mingled containers, where the enemy is food residue: A can of beans with bean juice still pooling at the bottom is more likely to find its way into a landfill than a recycling center.
And then there is glass. Whether hauled to transfer stations or taken away by a private carter, glass is never recycled, in the strictest sense of the word. That glass bottle you’re throwing away? It will never become another bottle in its lifetime. The process to turn post-consumer glass into new glass products is simply too expensive, and when different colored glass is mingled together, it can no longer be turned into new glass.
But glass does have what is called a “beneficial use.” When it is ground down to a sand-like material, it can be used as cover in landfills, for drainage, and even as an ingredient in asphalt, although that last use has had mixed results.