Guest Spot: Yellow bags have proven their worth

08/05/2012 8:59 AM |

Change is hard, and unless it’s a change for the better, don’t do it. Time has proved that the yellow-bag system works and works well.

Simply put, you pay for the amount you throw out, no more no less. That’s fair, and property owners aren’t carrying the full cost.

By purchasing the bags, homeowners, year-round and seasonal renters, office workers and short-term tourists all pay for the trash they put into the system.

Want to pay less? Then put less into the trash. How? Compost household plant and vegetable waste. Remove paper, plastic, glass and metal recyclables and buy products packaged in the least wasteful way.

The result of the yellow-bag program is that Southold finds itself with one of the highest recycling law compliance rates on Long Island. That’s something we should be proud of and not throw in the trash.

Still, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We need to see if there’s a better plan. But we shouldn’t think that shipping our trash elsewhere, as some carters profess to do, is a solution. It’s just passing the buck, and maybe even passing many bucks.

If another municipality is willing to take our trash, the only reason is they’ve found a way to make money from it. There is money in recycling paper, plastics, glass and metals, not a lot, but some. Perhaps the solution is for Southold, either alone or together with other East End Towns, to find ways to process, bundle and sell recyclables in a more cost-effective and profitable manner.

New York City requires the recycling of all plastic material with codes from 1 to 7. Southold Town accepts only codes 1 and 2. New York City also accepts all milk, juice and other beverage cartons as well as cardboard egg cartons, used aluminum foil and trays, and household scrap metals like chains, locks, scissors, etc.

If we want to help reduce the volume of household trash and, perhaps increase revenues from the sale of recyclable materials, perhaps Southold should expand and encourage the recycling of more items. That will reduce the need for yellow bags and so lower the cost per household. And increased revenues from recyclables sales may offset the reduction in yellow-bag use.

There may seem to be a disconnect when Southold says it’s looking to eliminate store plastic bags — and for good reason — while relying on yellow bags as a solution to the trash/recyclable problem, but the two policies are not out of sync.

Because of their relatively small size and sheer volume, it’s inevitable that a number of store plastic bags will find their way into the environment. They are known to cause the death of birds, turtles, fish and sea mammals that ingest the bags, mistaking them for jellyfish and other foods. Eliminating store plastic bags is a positive move.

Does that mean we should also get rid of the yellow trash bags? In this case, the benefits outweigh the cost. And we can still reduce the number of yellow bags used by increasing recycling options. Still, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look for new, possibly bagless solutions.

What about cost? If Southold were to permit the dumping of unsorted trash at the transfer station, additional funds would be needed to build, run and maintain a clean and acceptable dumping, sorting and carting facility. Add that to the loss of over $400,000 generated by the yellow bags and you’re looking at the need to levy new taxes. By shifting the cost to the property owner instead of the individual user, a household of one person would pay the same as a household of four, six or more. Is that fair or right? No.

In these challenging times, cost often drives behavior. Some carters play the cost card and say people should be able to choose a less costly solution, even if it creates more waste here or elsewhere. But what may cost less today may cost more in the end.

The yellow-bag program is in the best interest of Southold and its future. And it’s fair. If you don’t want to take the time to separate your recyclables from your regular trash, then you should pay more. It’s your choice, but it’s also your responsibility to the community.

It’s efforts such as the yellow-bag program which make Southold a cleaner and more desirable place to live for all.

What’s the right solution? At this time, we don’t know. The matter needs more study, discussion and input from all sides. But we do know that the yellow-bag system has worked and should not be cast aside until a better, more effective and equitable system is developed.

Mr. Toedter, who lives in Southold, is president of the North Fork Environmental Council, but the opinions expressed here are his own.