By Brandon B. Quinn
The basic element of why recycling is vital always comes back to a singular narrative: preserving planet Earth. But in trying economic times, perhaps the most influential spokespeople for recycling are those who understand the business behind the scrap-heaps and compost piles.
Ask Chris Specht, a sanitation worker at the North Sea Recycling Center, who sees recycling being embraced by penny-pinchers and tree-huggers alike.
“You see, with those green bags over there, the town uses the power of money to force residents to recycle,” he explained, while pointing to a heap of green garbage bags destined for a landfill or incinerator, filling an entire roll-off container. “Those green bags are the only bags you can use for garbage at a [Southampton] transfer station. They cost about $3 for a [large] bag. You are either paying for a garbage bag or for someone to pick up your garbage. Either way … waste costs you money. But recycling is free here. You save space in those waste bags by recycling whatever you can. If you choose the bag route, you want to use as much space in those bags as you can for the waste.”
And in the case of the “green bag plan,” money is talking to the tune of increased recycling rates. According to the “Town of Southampton Solid Waste Management Plan 2011-2025,” among the approximately 15 percent of residents who self-haul to town transfer stations, the recycling rate is 41 percent.
“Ten percent higher than state and national averages,” the report states.
While the amount of recycling done by the 85 percent of residents with private curbside pickup is indeterminate, prominent companies in the area contacted for this story, including Norsic, East End Sanitation and Go Green Sanitation, provide free, separate recycling pickup days in accordance with both East Hampton and Southampton town bylaws, which mandate such efforts by commercial haulers.
But the financial incentive for residents to recycle goes far beyond the green bag space-saving logic.
According to East Hampton Budget Officer Len Bernard, transfer stations, which cost the town roughly $1 million per year to run, can recoup an average of 16 percent of their costs by selling off recycled materials to private companies, which reuse the paper and plastic. In short, if East Hampton residents—who are required to purchase a yearly $100 permit to access waste and recycling stations—recycle more than the 1,442 tons they recycled last year, a slightly larger portion of their taxes can be spent on schools or roads instead of hauling away waste.
While the execution differs, the same principles apply in Southampton. According to Southampton Director of Municipal Works Christine Fetten, Southampton’s waste management is “cost neutral,” saving taxpayers a potential added expense, because its expenses to haul away waste equals its revenue from recycled material and bag sales.
Since the goal is always to remain cost-neutral, if more revenue is made from selling recyclables, in theory, the cheaper the bags would be to purchase.
Southampton Recycling Coordinator Terri Costanza reported, “You have to look at recycling two ways. Not only is it a marketable resource we can sell, but there is a cost savings for not having to hire someone to take away the recyclable material wasting away as garbage.”
The opportunities to recycle start right at home, Mr. Bernard said.
“If people do their due diligence and spend the couple minutes to separate their recyclables from the waste, do the right thing, it is just more advantageous all around,” he said. “Better for us as a town. Better for the environment, and better for themselves as taxpayers.”
Southampton transfer stations in Hampton Bays and North Sea are open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The stations in Sag Harbor and Westhampton are open six days a week, with no Wednesday service, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Those stations don’t accept metal, tires, hazardous waste or electronics.
East Hampton transfer stations in Springs and Montauk are open six days a week, with no Wednesday service, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.