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Featured Letter: Back to the basics when recycling in Southold

To the editor:

In response to comments made recently both in print and at public meetings concerning ongoing changes to Southold’s — and much of the country’s — recycling practices, it is true that the single-stream approach ultimately failed, but that is largely due to import restrictions in China on the portion of the stream that proved non-recyclable due either to lack of local markets or contamination with materials that turned paper products (the most valuable recyclables) into garbage.

The promise of single-stream was to use automation to separate mixed recyclables in response to state mandates to continually add new items to recycling programs. There are only so many bins residents are willing to set out in their kitchens, and the allure of using technology to sort for them was hard to resist, both in terms of cost and convenience (it did result in higher participation rates). At its start, single-stream recyclables were relatively clean as people simply mixed together what had been sorted. But over time, it became tempting to toss in questionable items (“wish-cycling”), and even garbage itself.

See also: Conversation with Jim Bunchuck

The process became labor-intensive and cost-prohibitive, all while damaging the public education that comes with proper sorting efforts. So now it’s back to basics. Recyclers will be asked to “Know Your Program”, i.e., recycle what your community has a market for, which are, on Long Island:

• paper/cardboard fiber

• tin/aluminum cans and plastic #1 and #2 containers (numbers usually found on the container bottom); and

• glass bottles

These are the only items which it is cheaper to recycle than to place in the garbage. In Southold we call this “3-Stream Recycling” and it is the quickest way to get back to a recycling program that actually saves money. And it’s beginning to work: last week, for the first time in months, revenue was generated on several loads of CLEAN paper fiber from the Cutchogue Transfer Station.

Jim Bunchuck
solid waste coordinator, Southold Town