By Sarah Beckford and Joe McQueen
Two days short of New York’s plastic bag enactment, Suffolk County’s recycling task force, formed in December of last year, has still not met once.
The task force, meant to study and recommend solutions to the ongoing recycling problem on Long Island, is comprised of county legislators, executives from various departments, community advocates, and recycling coordinators. Yet, two months into the new year, the task force hasn’t defined its membership and composition.
“The task force has not yet convened,” Sarah Lansdale, Director of Suffolk County’s Planning and Environment division in the Economic Development and Planning department said.
“No, they’re still in the process of getting their membership together. And I think, you know, there’s a number of appointments that come from a variety of different locations…,” Robert Calarco, presiding officer of the Suffolk County legislature, in a separate interview, said. “But I think those, you know respective appointing entities are making their appointments and confirming, who will be placed on those committees.”
The task force is set to expire at the end of the year and is expected to issue a report on their findings of the current challenges the county faces regarding recycling, and how to amend them. According to the original bill, no outside consultant or firm is allowed to conduct the task force’s study.
“We weren’t looking to spend money at this point, if that’s something that’s needed in the future, if the task force decides that there’s something specific to study and we need to hire a consultant, we would have to come back to the legislature for that,” Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn, who sponsored the bill, said. “This is, you know, we want to talk and investigate at the level of the people who are doing the work and on the ground, to figure out ways we can work together we don’t necessarily have to spend money to do that..”
Suffolk County’s current recycling system involves dual-stream recycling, which is the separation of different materials during the process. The county originally used single stream recycling, which is mixing all materials together as one, until their contractor, Green Stream Recycling, voided their contract and suspended operations in 2018 after China decided to ban the import of most recyclable materials.
However, community advocates believe there is room for improvement, especially in the market of making reusable materials from recyclables.
“Well there’s two things we need to do as a society. One is to reduce the amount of waste. We’re right now working with Senate and Assembly members in the state legislature to reduce packaging and make corporations more responsible for waste products, that can be recycled,” Adrienne Esposito, President of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said. “That’s a very important point. The second is that we need more options to reuse these waste products and have them produced into goods that we can use.”
“If it is good recycling material collected, it has a value, very good value. I mean it’s marketable. You will make money for a municipality.” John Vlachopoulos, Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering at McMaster University in Canada, said. “It will make money for the city and solves an environmental problem because with this material that I have in front of me, I can make a polyester shirt at the same time.”
Vlachopoulos added that turning recyclable materials into new goods is a market that’s growing, especially in efforts by municipalities to be environmentally friendly. In addition, collection of plastics and being mindful of microplastics, are important in the issue of forming effective recycling systems in municipalities.
“We as a region, especially being on an island, have to be very mindful how we’re dealing with our waste on all levels and it’s not just the traditional recyclable products-you know, food waste is a big problem,” Robert Calarco, presiding officer of the Suffolk County legislature, said. Legislator Calarco then explained a proposal to create a biodigester in Yaphank in order to reduce food waste and convert that waste into electricity. “So there’s a lot of interesting things that are out there but it really requires a global approach, so to speak, where everybody’s kind of working and collaborating together and I think that’s what Legislator Hahn is trying to get at with her task force.”