OP-ED: Brookhaven recycling is dying — my plan can revive it

Put everything in a bin, drag it to the curb and wait for it to be taken away.

Single-stream recycling in Brookhaven was just that easy — until reality hit.

China announced in July 2017 that it would ban imports on 24 types of scrap materials, and by early 2018 single-stream recycling programs across the U.S. collapsed.

Instead of getting ahead of the problem, Brookhaven Town leadership rode out its contract until the company, Green Stream, pulled out last November.

The town then reinstituted a biweekly, dual-stream program that restricted the number plastic recyclables and ended curbside glass pickup. There was little to no effective communication done to inform residents of the overnight change.

People are now throwing their recyclables, including glass wine bottles, into the trash because they missed a pickup day and couldn’t wait another two weeks, or because the local glass drop-off center is a 20-minute drive.

Brookhaven recycling isn’t dead, but it’s on life support. The town needs a new plan that is convenient, coherent and involves serious community buy-in.

Last month, I launched my campaign for Brookhaven Town supervisor because I felt the town had stopped communicating with its residents on key issues like recycling.

After weeks of research and consulting with experts from outside municipalities, I published through an online petition my 6-Point Plan to make Brookhaven a national leader on recycling.

The first point is simple: switch to weekly multi-stream pickup that allows residents to recycle their materials every week, while expanding the number of acceptable plastics to include bags. This would result in a decrease of the net cost per ton, lower contamination rates and increase participation.

Second, Brookhaven must institute monthly curbside glass pickup. The Department of Environmental Conservation has taken towns like Brookhaven to task for ending glass pickup without having performed a full market analysis. My plan calls for glass to be separated into green, brown and clear forms and picked up in a separate bin, which would increase its value while not being cost prohibitive.

The third point is to create a glass drop-off center for every 20,000 residents — one could be located in a parking lot no more than three minutes from your home.

Fourth, the town must develop an interactive website that educates residents on how to recycle, with guides, videos and examples.

Once implemented, the fifth point calls for the town to hold community information events, both during daytime hours and evening hours for working people and students.

The sixth and most important point is a public hearing process prior to implementation, where the plan can be presented to residents in all six council districts so they can review it, provide feedback, and have their questions answered. This is what true community buy-in looks like.

If our town’s elected leaders wish to have a recycling plan that works for residents and does not discourage participation, then they will consider putting my plan out for public comment.

Brookhaven deserves a recycling plan worthy of the next decade, not a plan that echoes the failures of the last one.

William Ferraro is the 2019 Democratic candidate for Brookhaven Town supervisor. He is a former legislative analyst, public contract manager, and graduated from Stony Brook University with a master’s in public policy.

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