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Brookhaven Town cracks down on recycling collection, says grace period is over

The town did not strictly enforce the new recycling rules for the first two months of the dual-stream program as it publicized the changes.

Brookhaven Town hangs

Brookhaven Town hangs "Oops" cards like these on the doors of homes that are not recycling properly. Photo Credit: Brookhaven Town

Brookhaven Town has stopped picking up recyclables from homes where plastics, paper and aluminum cans were improperly mixed, officials said Friday.

The town, which in November switched from single-stream recycling to a dual-stream system, said it started enforcing new rules last week intended to keep paper and cardboard products separate from bottles and cans. The town also stopped curbside collections of glass when it moved to dual-stream.

Carters collect metals and certain types of plastics one week, and paper and cardboard the next. The changes were implemented last year following the collapse of prices in international recycling markets.

Christopher Andrade, who runs Brookhaven's recycling program, said recyclables must be properly separated to ensure they are not contaminated by being with other types of material. The town does not fine residents for improper recycling, but on Jan. 30, carters started skipping houses that did not adhere to the rules.

“In order to market the commodities, it’s got to be clean,“ Andrade said. “It’s not recyclable if it’s contaminated.”

Some residents have put the wrong items in their recycling bins, and carters also have found cardboard milk containers and greasy pizza boxes, which cannot be recycled, town officials said, adding some homes also have improperly used plastic bags to throw out recyclables. Plastic bags can't be recycled.

Andrade said the town did not strictly enforce the new recycling rules for the first two months of the dual-stream program as it publicized the changes through mailings, advertising, social media and videos posted on the town website.

During that time, residents received what the town called "Oops" cards if they improperly mixed recyclables, officials said. Stickers were placed in bins to identify material that didn't belong in them, or if residents used plastic bags. 

“The grace period is over," Andrade said. "We’re getting a lot of contamination." 

Don Drosselmeier of Centereach said his recyclables were not picked up Wednesday, apparently because he placed material in a plastic bag. He said he was surprised because he previously had used the same type of bag for his recyclables.

“I put out the bag that I’ve been putting out for the last 10 years and they went right by,” Drosselmeier said. "I believe notices were sent [to neighbors], but I didn’t get one."

Drosselmeier, 59, a broadcast engineer, said he would stop using plastic bags.

“I’ll do whatever it takes," he said. "I really care about the environment and I’m going to do everything I can to take care of the planet.”

Andrade said most residents are cooperative when they are informed of their recycling mistakes and how to correct them. He said some residents appeared to be "confused" about which recyclables to put out each week.

Overall, recycling collections have been strong, and the material collected has been cleaner than it was under single stream, he said.

“We’re really hopeful that extensive education is going to get the message through," Andrade said. "I firmly believe most people are going to cooperate once they learn what to do.”

Do's and don'ts

Brookhaven collects the following recyclable material:

Plastic bottles

Aluminum and metal cans

Newspaper and magazines

Cardboard

It does not collect:

Greased-stained pizza boxes

Cardboard milk containers

Plastic bags

Glass may be deposited at any of seven town-operated facilities. See brookhavenny.gov for locations.

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