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Westchester County Recycling Center offers tips
When it comes to talking trash, Louis Vetrone says nobody does it better than Westchester -- although, the county could score even more impressive recycling numbers if residents followed three tips he shared with Newsday.
Recycling is definitely a green project for Vetrone, who has been the county's deputy commissioner for Environmental Facilities since 2009. But the green he's interested in also encompasses the dollars generated by the sale of residents' garbage as a commodity.
"We play the market," Vetrone said.
In 2011, sales of recycled plastic, cardboard, paper and other items generated $7.5 million for the county.
By getting these materials out of the garbage that the county must pay to have hauled away, there was an additional savings of $6.5 million, Vetrone said.
The ultimate benefit is lower taxes in a county with the highest taxes in the nation.
The county recycles 52 percent of its solid waste, putting Westchester way ahead of the national goal of 35 percent recycling and the state’s average rate of 36 percent.
The numbers are expected to improve because a powerful, $4.5 million laser trash-scanner now has the county recycling more discarded plastic which is being resold in a "highly competitive market," Vetrone said. Business has also been "fantastic" at a new county facility that collects potentially hazardous waste and hard-to-chuck items like used tires and propane tanks, he added.
Here are Veltrone's three tips for making recycling work even better in Westchester:
Recyclables should never be left at the curb in plastic bags
Bottles, containers and cans that have been rinsed with water should be set out curbside in a bin or large pail, making for easy dumping into municipal garbage trucks. Their loads eventually end up at the county Material Recovery Facility.
Known as the "MRF" (which is pronounced like "murf"), the three-story, 20,000-square-foot recycling warehouse sits next to the Ridge Hall shopping center. All day long, tractor trailers filled with recyclables dump their loads. Glass bottles are crushed into sparkling mountains while everything else goes through the scanners before being compressed and cut into bales of pulp and plastic.
At the MRF, the new scanning equipment shoots tens of thousands of lasers through trash that is rolling by on conveyor belts. This is where bagged garbage becomes a problem. The thin, filmy texture of bag plastic makes it impossible for the lasers to identify what's inside the bags. "The laser will read the bag as an unknown entity, as alien," Veltrone said.
Not everything is worth recycling
When it comes to plastic, glass and metal, the county will take much of what residents put out, as long as the items are fairly clean, and of a manageable size.
Since the big money is in recycling pulp -- otherwise known as cardboard, magazines, newsprint and paper -- residents can help by saving every scrap for recycling. Again, they should not be put out curbside in plastic bags though paper bags are OK.
Earlier this year, reselling cardboard hit a peak of nearly $200 a ton before the economic slowdown in China, where the need for raw materials has been driving the American recycling market. The county is now turning to domestic pulp buyers who are offering $100 per ton, said Vetrone.
Plastics are profitable too and the county is especially fond of plastics that bear a triangular stamp coded in numbers one through seven.
Vetrone said he’s constantly watching the fluctuating resale prices. “If the market goes up for plastic fours, we’ll separate that out,” he said.
Some items, like styrofoam, are too pricey and impractical to recycle, he explained. Because it’s so light, “you’d need a lot of space to collect it before you make a ton.”
Potentially hazardous materials are recyclable
In April, the county opened its Household-Material Recovery Facility at the Grasslands Campus at 15 Woods Rd. in Valhalla. Residents can make an appointment up to two weeks in advance to drop off potentially hazardous discards and e-waste on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
On the first Tuesdays of every month, the facility also collects prescription drugs, including controlled substances -- no questions asked. “I haven’t had anyone come in yet with heroin," joked Vetrone, who, before his current job, was the county's deputy director at the Solid Waste Commission, where he investigated carting companies with organized crime ties.
Before this E-MRF site was built, the county was hosting as many as eight or nine annual events where residents could queue up in their cars and drop off old tires, propane tanks, mercury thermometers, computers -- anything that plugs into a socket. Each event ran up bills ranging from $60,000 to $100,000; in 2010 the expense topped out at $500,000, Vetrone said.
Even though the facility cost $3 million to build, “We’re going to see a money savings from having a permanent site,” he said. At this location, tires and some e-waste can be recycled. But the county pays to remove chemicals and fertilizers.
For more information on recycling, click here.