Recycling 2019


The East Hampton Press ran a series of 3 articles this fall about what happens to recyclables on the East End. The articles make it clear that a lot has changed in just the past year, and the new reality is a surprise — far less is recycled than you think if you use a private carting company, and self-hauling is better. 

Based on the Press articles, which were widely praised by the carting industry and others, and on further interviews in January with Will Flower at Winters Brothers, Mike Wellman at Evipco, and the East Hampton Recycling Center, summarized below is what you need to know to recycle effectively in 2019.

My carting company says I don’t need to separate recyclables from the rest of my trash because they’ll do it – true or false?

Carting companies take your unseparated garbage to processing centers that do ‘single stream’ recycling. Trash is dumped on a conveyor belt with only a small number of ‘high value’ items hand-picked from your garbage as it moves briskly along. The pickers look for high value items not contaminated by regular waste or broken glass, and if it’s not selected out, it goes to a landfill.

Probably only 10% of your recyclables are removed in this process.

What is ‘high value’?

In single stream processing, even though the items we discard may be designated recyclable, garbage processing centers only pull out what they can sell at a profit.  Many recyclables are too dirty or contaminated from being tossed in with household garbage, while there is no market at all for others.

Clean, dry corrugated boxes or newspapers, clean plastic milk and detergent jugs, and construction materials, primarily metals, are all ‘high value,’ although to varying degrees.

What isn’t recycled in single stream recycling?

Plastic water and beverage bottles, plastic yogurt and food containers, plastic bags of all kinds, tin and aluminum cans, Styrofoam and glass bottles aren’t recycled.

Wet or dirty cardboard and newspapers, left out in the rain awaiting pickup or soiled after being mixed in with your trash – think coffee grounds dumped on top of newspapers – also aren’t recycled.

Why is so little removed?

Single stream recycling was introduced to our area in the early 2000’s, a time when China bought a huge portion of American recyclables – waste paper, used plastics, and scrap metal. It was cheap to ship to China, and the Chinese were willing to take our recyclable trash even when it was contaminated.

But a year ago, the Chinese government passed regulations that severely restricted what China was willing to import, and recyclables now have to be far, far cleaner than can be achieved in single stream processing. The Chinese government has made this change to encourage its own domestic recycling — with economic growth, the Chinese people now produce huge quantities of potential recyclables themselves.

So how can I make sure my recyclables are actually recycled?

Some carting companies will pick up recyclables separately from household garbage, meaning in a different truck and on a different day, so if you’re willing to pay the extra fee of around $15 a month, this may be a good option. (If they tell you they’ll pick up your separated recyclables at the same time and on the same truck as your household trash, then assume it will end up in a landfill.)

You also might consider GoGreen Sanitation. GoGreen takes your trash to Peconic Recylcing and Transfer (PR&T) in Cutchogue, which is a high-tech facility able to extract up to 30% of the recyclables from your trash. They do this by using more technology and more people to pick through your trash.

Or, best of all, you can take your recyclables to the East Hampton Recycling and Disposal Center. The annual fee of $115 for unlimited access will cost you about $10 per month. If you’re 65 or older, the price drops to $55, or $5 a month.

Because the East Hampton Recycling Center requires homeowners to sort recyclables themselves with clear instructions posted throughout the facility (e.g., no glossy inserts with newspapers), contamination levels are sharply reduced and resale values are higher than for items extracted from  household trash. The Town Recycling Center doesn’t recycle glass, although it does repurpose it by grinding it up to use for drainage.

What else can you do?

Will Flower at Winters Bros. suggests returning glass bottles subject to the New York State bottle deposit to the store where you bought them. The store will return them to the bottling company and refund your deposit.

You also can take glass – as well as aluminum cans and plastic bottles — to the green Ultra48 “reverse vending” machines at local grocery stores — outside Cirillo’s in Amagansett, inside by the yogurt section at Stop&Shop in East Hampton, or next to the entrance to King Kullen in Bridgehampton. These machines use a high-tech laser scanner system and sensors to select or reject your items and then issue you a refund coupon.

The machines don’t take everything – only items subject to the New York State bottle deposit – but Mike Wellman of Envipco, the company that provides the Ultra48 machines, says 100% of what the Ultra48 machines do collect is recycled – into polyester fiber for clothing or residential carpets, or new bottles and cans, for example.

We also can reduce use of plastics that aren’t recycled: plastic bags (ziplock bags, produce bags, plastic shopping bags); styrofoam; most food packaging; plastic cups, straws, and cutlery.  Of note, the Town of East Hampton just banned styrofoam this past January, and the Village is close to banning single use plastic.

Finally, Will Flower suggests paying attention to what we buy and to select for packaging with recycled content. The more pressure on consumer goods manufacturers to raise the percentage of recycled materials in their packaging, the more incentives there will be to recycle.

Tell me about the East Hampton Recycling Center.

Built in the early 1990’s under the administration of then Town Supervisor Tony Bullock (son of our member, Sue Bullock), the Recycling and Disposal Center (or ‘dump’) is at 260 Springs Fireplace Road. It’s open every day except Wednesdays and major holidays from 7 AM to 5 PM.

Each week the Town’s Recycling Center holds an auction to sell what it’s collected from residents, with about four companies who bid regularly. At the end of January, it was able to earn $100 per ton for scrap metal, $55 per ton for baled newspapers, $45 per ton for baled cardboard, $10 per ton for loose mixed paper. It paid Winters Bros. $95 per ton to take its plastic bottles. (Winters Bros. says it costs them $85 per ton to process them further.)

Here’s a link if you want to learn more about the Recycling Center:

Who uses the Recycling Center?

It’s hard to pin down how many residents use the Town Recycling Center, but we know that many of our members do, and they are fans!

Sarah Amaden recalls going every Sunday with her husband and father-in-law, especially because her father-in-law always stopped to talk to friends and neighbors while there. Now her husband makes the weekly trip.

Abby Jane Brody loves seeing who else goes to the dump. She also uses the free compost available to any resident willing to pick it up.

Susan Rice notes how helpful and likable the Recycling Center staff are, and says she and her husband always see friends there.

Jane Maynard says that when her husband was working, he always went to the Recycling Center on weekends and hated it when she hired a carting company.  

Calista Washburn says she started going to the dump when her monthly bill for residential garbage pickup went up to $50 per month. In addition, she has always supported recycling and didn’t believe the carters when they tossed everything together in the back of their trucks saying they would sort through it later. Wise lady, it turns out!

See below for a comparison of carting prices versus the East Hampton Recycling Center