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Conversation: Jim Bunchuck on the future of recycling in Southold Town

It’s official: Southold residents must abandon single-stream recycling by Feb. 1, town officials said. 

Self-haulers will be encouraged to start sorting materials as soon as the town transfer station in Cutchogue is reorganized, which could be as early as next week, according to solid waste coordinator Jim Bunchuck. The town will continue to accept single-stream recyclables while residents prepare themselves for the change.

The town has settled on an approach that separates recyclables into three distinct categories: glass, paper/cardboard and cans and plastic.

“We’re not going to be in crisis in the sense that I think we have a handle on it and that the public will be responsive,” Mr. Bunchuck said Tuesday during a work session with the Town Board.

Southold had an inter-municipal agreement with the Town of Brookhaven through 2024 but the closing of Green Stream Recycling, which was contracted by Brookhaven to sort and sell recycled material, left Southold with a major backlog of recyclables.

The Southold Town Board passed a resolution last month allowing recyclables to be sent to Omni Recycling of Babylon. Omni will continue to accept Southold’s single-stream recycling until Feb. 1, at a cost of $82 per ton. Once the town has completely transitioned to the new system, it will be able to generate revenue from the paper and cans portions of the three streams, which are the most marketable on Long Island.

The Southold Town Recycling Center over this past weekend. (Credit: Steve Wick)

Continuing with single-stream recycling, Mr. Bunchuck said, could have cost the town about $250,000 per year.

The town switched to single-stream recycling in 2014 and instructed residents to put all recyclables together. Although this increased the volume of recyclables received, it also increased the amount of unrecyclable material residents tossed into the mix. In 2012, according to Solid Waste District annual reports, 2,829 tons of cardboard, cans, glass, plastic and paper were measured by the town; in 2015, that number rose to 3,127 tons.

Mr. Bunchuck said that the most valuable plastics are Nos. 1 and 2, which consist mainly of soda and water bottles. Caps and labels do not need to be removed. He reminded everyone that clean recyclables are key, meaning that material can’t contain food contaminants and must be rinsed clean.

Supervisor Scott Russell said the town would use as many means of communication as possible to get the word out to residents, including an email blast.

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