Southampton Town may join the growing number of municipalities who’ve switched to single stream recycling this year, amid major fluctuations in the ever-volatile recycling market.
Southampton residents who bring their garbage to one of the town’s four transfer stations currently divide their recycling up into cardboard, paper and commingled plastic, glass and metal, but the town may soon have to change that method of recycling, because Brookhaven Town, which accepts Southampton’s recycling, is switching over to a program where those three types of recycling are all accepted in one bin.
Southampton Public Works Director Christine Fetten told the town board at a work session Jan. 7 that Southampton currently receives about $77 per ton for cardboard and $41 per ton for paper, but pays Brookhaven $20 per ton for the commingled glass, plastic and metal. If Southampton decides to continue working with Brookhaven, they would be paid $15 per ton for all the recycling collected together in one stream.
The net loss in revenue to the town per year would be around $40,000 per year, she said.
Ms. Fetten said her department had issued a request for proposals to continue the current separated recycling program but sell the recycling on the private market, but only received one bid back. If the town accepted that bid, she said, the net loss in revenue would be around $60,000.
Ms. Fetten said Brookhaven Town expects an answer from Southampton by the end of January.
Recycling rates often go up once municipalities switch over to single-stream recycling. Southold Town switched to single-stream recycling in September of 2014, and saw their recycling rate rise by about 26 percent. But the town issued a warning three months into the program that single-use plastic bags were jamming up the sorting machines and could not be included in the recycling.
Ms. Fetten pointed out to the Southampton board that people will still need to break apart recycling that contains more than one material. For example, she said, plastic bubble packets with a cardboard backing would need to be separated before they are thrown away.
Brookhaven’s specifications for their proposed five-year contract also require that Southampton deliver them recyclables that are at least 55 percent fiber, not more than 20 percent glass and not more than 10 percent unacceptable material, or the contract could be terminated.
New Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said he likes the idea of single-stream recycling.
“If we make it easier, so that people can bring a green bag and one container instead of three, we’re probably going to see a greater volume of recycling and less municipal solid waste,” he said.
New councilman John Bouvier said he’d like to see the details of the contract before voting on it. Councilman Stan Glinka said he would support it, but Councilwoman Christine Scalera said she had some reservations over whether the town had explored all its options.
Ms. Fetten said she’s uncertain whether Southampton would see great gains in recycling with the new program. Users of the town’s transfer stations already have one of the highest recycling rates in the country, she said, but only about 15 percent of the town’s population is estimated to use the transfer stations, while the rest use private carters.
Ms. Fetten said she’s heard anecdotal evidence that some people who have private carters for their garbage continue to take their recycling to the transfer station because it is easier to transport and they’re not sure if their carters are separating the recycling from the garbage. She said this may be part of the reason the town’s recycling rate is so high.
“People who use the transfer station are very dedicated,” she said.
“I like single stream,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “I think it’s the future. I think it’s the direction everyone is going in…. It’s also providing a tremendous convenience to our residents. I’m ready to move forward with it.”
Ms. Fetten agreed to ask Brookhaven for an extension in case the town board doesn’t make a decision before the end of January.