Despite ubiquitous talk about how “green is good,” nearly all Long Island municipalities have exhibited sharp declines in recycling over the past decade.
According to a new survey by Stony Brook University’s Department of Technology and Society and the Waste Reduction and Management Institute, recycling rates on Long Island dropped from 29 percent to 24 percent; Suffolk’s overall recycling rate was 27 percent, while Nassau’s was only 20 percent.
The study, “Recycling on Long Island 2009: A report on municipal programs in Nassau and Suffolk Counties,” is prompting officials like Brookhaven town supervisor Mark Lesko to rethink how their municipalities manage waste.
“The results of the study are frankly disturbing,” Lesko said at a press conference. “It’s a wake up call to the entire region. We must recycle more.”
While Brookhaven saw an 11 percent decrease in recycling, the town is in far better shape than almost all locations on the east end of the island. According to the survey, East Hampton saw the highest rate of decline at 4 percent. Babylon and Oyster Bay were not far behind with declines of 46 percent and 45 percent respectively.
But for every bit of bad news, there were scattered specks of improvement. Southampton was way ahead of the pack with an 85 percent rate of recycling. Shelter Island was the only other site with a recycling increase at a total 63 percent recycling rate.
The cause of the otherwise pervasive declines cannot be precisely defined.
“I think the reason for the decline is due to the change in materials and the change in lifestyles,” said the report’s lead author Krista Greene, a graduate student at Stony Brook’s Department of Society and Technology. “For instance the switch from heavy materials like glass to lighter materials like plastic.”
New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele points his finger at a lack of education and awareness.
“If the same commitment was given to recycling as smoking or drunk driving, I think we would see better results,” Thiele said.
Some Long Island residents like Hampton Bays middle school teacher Amanda Heenan attribute apathy to the cause of the island’s low recycling rates, an attitude derived from Suffolk County’s method of trash collection.
“Where I live, you have to drive to special facilities to drop off your recycling and put the garbage into special bags,” Heenan said. “Recycling in my town is kind of inconvenient.”
Heenan is describing the “Pay as You Throw” system designed for more sparse areas of Long Island. The system charges residents per pound of waste. Other more densely populated areas of Long Island, like Hempstead, have curbside pickup of waste and recyclables. In areas like East Hampton that are sparsely populated, residents must drop off all trash to waste facilities or hire private companies to collect these materials. Recyclables must be separately bagged in special plastic provided by the town to every resident.
In some municipalities, residents are charged for trash collection through property tax.
Stony Brook University was not included as a part of the survey, but according to Greene, a study comparing the university to other schools in the area and possibly the country may be the next step.