Sag Harbor Village Mayor Brian Gilbride remembers how the village used to deal with trash. Before the 1960s, Sag Harbor had several satellite spots where residents would dump, and Southampton Town would later burn, their garbage. Over the 1960s and 1970s, the town found a cheaper way of handling household waste: landfills. But by the following decade, town officials became more aware of the impact trash had on the environment and slowly started to recycle, noted Gilbride at a recent “Talkin’ Trash” forum hosted by 725 Green and Sustainable Southampton.
The town has since made great strides in disposing of its waste since those days. Southampton has closed the landfill and operates four waste management transfer stations. But the town still fails to stack up to the efforts made by other municipalities on Long Island.
According to a 2009 Long Island Recycling Report Card compiled by the Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), Southampton Town was given a C grade for their waste management program. The town lost points, said CCE representative Maureen Dolan Murphy, because it lacks adequate public education programs and fails to coordinate recycling with local businesses and schools. Murphy did note that the “Green Bag” policy, where residents pay for a trash bag to drop off at a transfer station, is one of the few initiatives of its kind on Long Island and called it “cutting edge.”
She pointed out town residents opt into purchasing the “Green Bags,” whereas in Southold all residents are required to participate in the town’s waste management program. Southampton Town Supervisor Linda Kabot has previously stated that only 15 percent of town citizens use the town’s transfer stations, but town councilman Chris Nuzzi argued this figure was debatable.
Over the course of the meeting, the audience further questioned where local garbage ends up. Gilbride, a former sanitation supervisor for the town and a manager for the private hauling company Emil Norsic & Son, explained that most common household garbage is transported to a Winter Brothers transfer station in Yaphank or Babylon. It is either incinerated there or bailed and then brought to a major landfill in either Ohio, Virginia or Pennsylvania.
“We are dumping our trash in someone’s backyard,” remarked an audience member.
Others worried their materials aren’t actually being re-used. Gilbride pointed out that recyclables have become a commodity and the market for these items is often volatile.
“The prices [for trash and recyclables] are no different than the stock market … You may get $25 for a ton of newspapers one day but I have seen people get $100 a ton,” noted Gilbride. He added that there is an inherent cost to price, collect, store and sell these items.
Because there isn’t a market for certain materials like glass, reported Jeremy Samuelson speaking as a representative from Group for the East End, these items often aren’t recycled.
“We don’t want a trailer of glass to sit somewhere waiting for the market to respond. It isn’t workable,” remarked Samuelson.
Based on her research, 725 Green Chairwoman Gigi Morris said she believes cardboard and number-one and -two plastics are regularly recycled but glass is rarely processed for reuse. Michael Pope, a former consultant to the Department of Environmental Conservation, said glass is cheaper to produce than to recycle.
Morris hopes to help the town find ways to promote recycling. Murphy recommended local municipalities install recycling receptacles in downtown areas. Separating recycled items before they are transported to the transfer stations to the west of the East End will heighten the value of the product, added Gilbride. Nuzzi further argued that local public policy should reflect a commitment to disposing of waste in a proper manner.
Over the course of the evening, the notion of consuming less and producing less waste percolated throughout the discussion. Long Island residents create around seven pounds of garbage per resident per day, while the national average is closer to 4.3 pounds.
“A zero waste policy is emerging,” reported Murphy. “The goal is to not produce waste — and recycle and compost whatever you can.”
Of the waste created by Long Island residents, Samuelson added, “we have seen the enemy and the enemy is us.”