Southold Town considers getting rid of ‘yellow bags’

TIM KELLY PHOTO | Cardboard is among the materials Southold residents can drop off without cost for recycling at the town transfer station in Cutchogue.

If you use a private garbage carter for your rubbish, you may not have to buy yellow garbage bags much longer. But that doesn’t resolve a larger issue over whether Go Green, a relatively new carter in the area that has been collecting mixed waste at the curbside, can continue to operate legally Southold.

The town has accused Go Green of violating rules that forbid waste from being left at the curb unless recyclables have been separated from it.

Supervisor Scott Russell told Town Board members at Tuesday morning’s work session that he had no objection to waiving the yellow bag requirement for those who pay private carters to pick up their garbage.

But at an informational meeting the supervisor held on the garbage issue at Town Hall last Thursday night, the issue wasn’t the use of yellow bags but whether the town could stop Go Green from picking up refuse curbside when the company doesn’t require its customers to separate garbage from recyclables. It’s not just the code but state law that requires curbside separation, Mr. Russell said, and Department of Environmental Conservation officials have made it clear they would enforce that law.

Two DEC officials attended Thursday night’s meeting — regional solid materials engineer Syed Rahman and department spokesman Bill Fonda — to back up the supervisor.

Since Go Green came to Southold within the past few months, DEC officials have told the town that unless the requirement for curbside separation of garbage and recyclables is enforced, the town risks losing its permit to operate its transfer station. And that’s the case even though Go Green carts the garbage it collects to a Yaphank facility operated by Winter Brothers, according to Go Green’s operator Frank Fisher. Mr. Rahman also warned that Winter Brothers could face legal action if inspectors catch Go Green trucks unloading unseparated loads at its facilities.

Mr. Fisher insisted that Winter Brothers separates the refuse he takes there, but Mr. Russell said that on a visit he and Mr. Ruland had made there they were told little effort is put into separating recyclables.

The town won’t fine residents who fail to separate their refuse, but could fine a carter like Go Green, issuing as many citations as it has customers in the town, Mr. Russell said.

The two-hour Town Board informational session Thursday night and a subsequent discussion Tuesday morning provided no resolution to the conflict between town officials and Mr. Fisher.

“I can’t change human behavior, but I also can’t change state law,” Supervisor Russell told Mr. Fisher Thursday night. He acknowledged that other carters’ customers don’t always fully separate all of their recyclables, but said it’s up to town officials to enforce state law while maintaining a level playing field for all carters.

Because Go Green has advertised that no curbside separation is necessary for its pickups, Southold is very much on the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s radar, the supervisor said.

“I’m going to continue to do business,” Mr. Fisher said Thursday night. At the same time, he insisted, “I’m not looking to break any of your laws. DEC guys are great and whatever they want me to do, that’s no problem.”

The problem for the town, Mr. Russell said, is the threat that the DEC will lift the town’s permit to run its transfer station because of Go Green’s practices. Without that facility, the town would have to find other places to take its brush, leaves, tires and other matter, Mr. Russell said.

Jon Divello of Mattituck Sanitation said that Go Green tilts the playing field against carters who follow the rules.

“You come here like a cowboy,” he said to Mr. Fisher, insisting that he should have to do the same two pickups — one for garbage and the other for recyclables — that all the other carters are required to do.

At Tuesday’s Town Board work session, Mr. Russell discussed other aspects of the garbage issue. Carters who do not require customers to use yellow bags for non-recyclable garbage, he said, would have to take their loads over the scales and pay a fee to dump it at the Cutchogue-based transfer station. Private carters are being hurt by the requirement that their clients also have to put their garbage in yellow bags, Mr. Russell acknowledged.

But yellow bags produce revenue and are important to the town’s budget, he added. He estimated that one-third of the cost of operating the transfer station is funded by the sale of yellow bags, and that the cost of the bags is a good incentive for people to reduce waste by recycling.

Private carters have the option not to take the garbage they collect to the Cutchogue transfer station at all, he noted, but to dump it at other facilities up-island. Requiring yellow bags for them at pickup doesn’t make sense, the supervisor said.

Mr. Russell said he doesn’t mind if the carters take the garbage out of town, because the less garbage the town takes in, the less it costs the town to run the transfer station.

“Any carter should have that flexibility today in the 21st century,” said Town Board member Bill Ruland.

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