Babylon Town and a professor at Stony Brook University are seeking a state permit to extract reusable metal from the town's ash fills, a project that would be the first of its kind on Long Island.
If approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the yearlong pilot project could free up much-needed space in Babylon's massive fills, which are nearing capacity.
“Sooner or later that monofill is going to close, and when it closes the financial implications are pretty significant,” said Frank Roethel, a professor of chemical oceanography at Stony Brook University, who is spearheading the project. Monofills are repositories for a single waste type.
“The longer you can keep that monofill functional, the better it is for the town,” said Roethel, who studies the environmental characteristics of ash produced by plants like Babylon's.
Babylon began building the two fills in West Babylon around 20 years ago to store ash from the neighboring trash incineration plant, according to Tom Vetri, Babylon’s deputy commissioner of environmental control. The plant is operated by Covanta Babylon, a subsidiary of global waste management corporation, Covanta.
The fills can house more than 2 million cubic yards of ash. But with 1,250 tons of ash produced at the incinerator weekly, they have only 500,000 cubic yards left to spare, and could reach capacity in about 13 years, Vetri said.
After that, the town will likely truck its ash off Long Island, as other towns do with their waste, which is more expensive, he said.
Culling small pieces of metal from the ash won’t prevent the fills from reaching capacity, but it could slow the process, Vetri said.
Roethel estimated that up to 10 percent of Babylon’s fills could be occupied by reusable metals.
Stony Brook would hire private waste separation and extraction firms to carry out the project, which would involve both diverting metal from newly produced ash and mining metal from the fills. The town would not pay the companies, but they would keep revenue from metal sales, directing a small portion to support Roethel’s research.
If the recovered materials are in good condition, they could sell for $120 to $1,200 per ton, depending on their type, Roethel said.
While extracting aluminum, copper, iron and like materials from new ash is common — mining old fills for metal is not, he said.
“Nowhere on Long Island will something like this have been undertaken,” he said.
Roethel said he expects a decision from the DEC on the permit application this month. The study could then begin in the fall.
Asked to comment on the application, a spokeswoman for the department said only that the agency is reviewing its potential impact on the environment and public health.