Long Island has yet to reach the recycling heights achieved by West Coast communities such as Portland, where more than 60 percent of the city's trash ends up in the recycling bin. But residents here recycle a lot more cans, bottles and newspapers than they did in 1988, when the state passed its first sweeping solid-waste law. And while Long Islanders generate more trash than most New Yorkers, they also have a higher rate of recycling - in part because they set out more yard waste for collection than urban and rural residents.
Back when curbside recycling was in its infancy, a 1988 Newsday analysis found that Long Island recycled about 5.5 percent of its trash. That rate has since climbed to 23.8 percent - higher than the statewide average of 20.3 percent, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
"I remember growing up, my neighbors were saying they didn't want to recycle because it was a hassle," said Adrienne Esposito, 49, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "Now it's just become something you do."
Still, like the rest of New York, Long Island fell short of the state's 1987 goal of 50 percent recycling and waste reduction by 1997. And it continues to come up short. There are plenty of residents, schools and businesses that don't recycle at all, said the DEC's Resa Dimino.
To fix that, the agency wants to see more recycling bins in public spaces, schools and workplaces. A draft update of the state's solid-waste plan released last spring calls for stepped-up enforcement of local recycling laws to help goose stagnant recycling rates.
Some local solid-waste managers say more work is needed to create markets for products like recycled glass, which is easily contaminated and far less in demand than aluminum or newspaper.
"You've got to have an end user," said Phil Healey, director of the Long Island Sanitation Officials Association and superintendent of public works for the village of Lynbrook. "If there's nobody to buy the stuff then it just piles up."