By Claire Walla
When the East End said goodbye to on-site landfills more than a decade ago, dumping habits inevitably changed. Instead of carting materials to a central location locally where they were either recycled or put into the ground, transfer stations were set up to collect residents’ unwanted debris and truck it elsewhere.
According to a draft of Southampton Town’s newest waste management plan, 50 percent of those using the town transfer stations do recycle — this is reportedly better than the national average of 30 percent. However, only 15 percent of Southampton Town residents are estimated to use town transfer stations.
So, what happens to the other 85 percent?
“Most of the waste is going directly through private carters,” explained New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, Jr., which makes it difficult for the town to regulate.
Mickey Valcich, of Mickey’s Carting, Corp. in Montauk, which services Sag Harbor and other parts of the East End, claimed Mickey’s does in fact recycle. However, his company’s recycling efforts do not require homeowners to separate materials.
“We don’t separate collections,” he explained. “Because [Eastern Resource Recycling] has a system where they sort the garbage there. They run the garbage across a conveyor belt and pull out all the recycling.”
Valcich said all waste materials and recyclables are taken to the Eastern Resource Recycling facility in Yaphank.
For Sag Harbor owned Suburban Sanitation, the situation is a little different. While the company also takes much of its debris to Eastern Resource Recycling, owner Ralph Ficorelli said cardboard and newspaper are taken to Gershow Recycling in Medford. Because the materials need to be separated-out to be taken to two separate facilities, he said his company runs on a bi-weekly recycling schedule.
Every Thursday, Ficorelli said the company rotates between picking up bundled newspapers and cardboard one week, and then co-mingled products (glass, plastic and tin) the next.
“Most people are great,” Ficorelli said. “They either have bins marked recyclables, or it’s separated from their other stuff.” He estimated that between 50 to 75 percent of his clientele make an active effort to distinguish recyclables from regular rubbish, though that’s just a ballpark estimate.
For the rest of the households on his company’s pick-up route, those that don’t actively recycle, Ficorelli said that doesn’t necessarily mean recyclable materials are simply discarded.
Just as Mickey Valcich explained, Ficorelli said that much of the debris taken to Eastern Resource Recycling is placed on a giant conveyor belt, where employees pick through materials, separating out all the recyclables.
Whether or not everything gets separated out from the rest of the trash heap, Ficorelli said he wasn’t sure. “It depends,” he said. “A lot of the material they put on the picking belt is loose material. They run [the garbage] through a trommel, which actually does break open a lot of the bags,” he explained.
“I don’t know what the average is, but [the pickers] make a valiant attempt to recycle whatever they can,” he added.
Both Ficorelli and Valcich said they do not get paid for any of their scrap material (though Ficorelli said Gershow does pay for newspaper and cardboard material). However, they don’t have to pay tipping fees for recyclables, because Eastern Resource Recycling can turn those products around and sell them for a profit.
“We’re basically just happy to get rid of them at no cost,” Ficorelli said.
While materials like glass and plastic may not be very valuable here in the U.S., these materials can be separated out and sold internationally. According to www.recycleinme.com— which lists current market prices for various scrap materials — the price of plastics in China, for example, is roughly three times the market price in the U.S.
As part of its new waste management plan, which is regulated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Southampton Town is being required to gather information from private carters regarding their recycling habits. This will give the town a better idea of where all its waste is going.
However, Assemblyman Thiele said even with this information, the town would not necessarily have the authority to regulate it.
“It makes it difficult to enforce these recycling goals, because [the town] doesn’t really have control over the waste stream,” he explained.
Thiele said the town will have to re-shift its priorities in order to truly be able to regulate and control its solid waste. When the landfill was shut-down, Thiele said the town took a good hard look at alternatives to waste disposal, including building a waste-management plant or a recycling facility. But instead, he said, the town took “the path of least resistance.”
Thiele continued, “My guess is that less waste is being recycled today.”