June 28, 2017No comments
By Lilia Factor, Co-chair of the Environmental/Green Industries Committee.
What happens to the paper, plastic and aluminum that you put out on the curb on recycling day? On May 9, 2017, the members of the HIA-LI Environmental/Green Industries Committee learned the answer to this question by going on a tour of the Town of Brookhaven’s recycling facility, located at 352 Horseblock Road in Yaphank. The facility underwent significant upgrades about three years ago to equip it for “single stream recycling”. This enables residents to put all of their recyclables into one container, which is picked up by the municipality and brought to the facility for sorting. There, the mixed recyclables are loaded onto a long conveyor system that takes them through various filters, photo sensors, and quality control stations. At the end, the different types of plastic, paper, cardboard, and aluminum are separated and baled, the glass is crushed, and the large pieces of metal are collected for sale as raw commodities.
The private company running the operation is Green Stream Recycling, a company owned by Winters Brothers and Omni Westbury. By agreements with the Town of Brookhaven and others, Green Stream pays different rates for the materials it takes in and is responsible for processing and selling the end products. Other towns, including Southold, Smithtown, Huntington and Glen Cove, also bring their recyclables to the Yaphank facility, bringing its total intake to 5,700 – 6,000 tons per month. With the capacity to handle up to 35 tons of materials per hour, Green Stream is still looking to contract with additional municipalities in Nassau and Suffolk.
One problem repeatedly mentioned on the tour and plain to see on the conveyor was the profusion of plastic bags, which are not supposed to be disposed of in the recycling bins. Although plant employees try to remove the bags at the beginning of the sorting process, many bags get through the manual screening and are caught up in the rotating parts of the conveyor system. As a result, the equipment must be halted and manually cleaned several times a day. The correct way to handle plastic bags is to use fewer of them, re-use them for regular waste, or take them for recycling at special receptacles placed in supermarkets. The facility operators also ask that residents empty containers before putting them into the bins. This reduces clogging and sanitation problems.
Who buys the separated recyclables? A lot depends on the market for these commodities, with prices changing daily. Some of the material is packed into ship containers for transport to China. Aluminum and tin is currently being sold to U.S. and Canadian buyers. Large steel items are collected by a local vendor. Glass is crushed and used in construction and as cover material, including at the adjacent Brookhaven landfill, which accepts construction and demolition debris and incinerator ash.
According to Nicole Pocchiare and George Bateman, who led the tour, the single stream system has facilitated a 25% increase in recycling rates in Brookhaven. However, there is still a long way to go. It is estimated that recycling, composting, and changes in packaging materials can reduce our garbage by 75%, which would go a long way to reducing incineration on Long Island, as well as truck traffic taking trash to landfills in other states.
iArticle was published in June 2017 issue of TheHIA-LI Reporter