Long Island's largest single-stream recycling program faced an uncertain future Monday when the operator of Brookhaven Town's processing plant said it would stop work there next week and the company is likely to dissolve.
Green Stream Recycling told town officials it could no longer process discarded paper, plastics, cardboard and aluminum at the plant in Brookhaven hamlet because of worsening conditions in recycling markets stemming from China's decision earlier this year to curtail purchases of U.S. recyclables.
Brookhaven officials said they would select a new contractor on Nov. 2 to replace Green Stream for the next six months while reviewing options for the long-term operation of the plant. The town last week announced it was seeking bids to tentatively replace Green Stream if the company stopped working for the town.
Brookhaven officials said they remain committed to their single-stream recycling program, in which residents place recyclables in one bin without separating paper, plastic and other items, but acknowledged the program faces challenges. Officials said there would be no immediate impact on residents and homeowners should continue putting out their recyclables for collection.
"We are going to continue to recycle," Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in an interview. "It may cost us some money, but we are going to continue to recycle."
Green Stream, co-owned by Joe Winters of West Babylon-based Winters Bros. Waste Services and Anthony Core of Westbury-based Omni Recycling, has run the Brookhaven facility under a 25-year deal struck with the town in 2013.
Will Flower, vice president of Winters Bros., said the company had planned to pull out of the deal Monday, but it agreed to a one-week extension and will stop running the facility Oct. 29.
He said Green Stream is unable to make enough from selling recyclables for it to be worthwhile. Green Stream's only client is Brookhaven, and Flower said he expected the company to dissolve.
This summer, Winters Bros. and the Town of Oyster Bay agreed to discontinue a deal for the company to run that town's single-stream recycling operations.
"There are no markets for many recyclables that are collected," Flower said. "It's difficult to [operate] under the current contractual formula" with Brookhaven.
The Brookhaven deal required Green Stream to pay $20 per ton for recyclables and cover the costs of running the plant. In exchange, Green Stream kept profits from selling recyclables. Green Stream has not paid the town since July, town officials and Flower said.
Brookhaven officials last week said Green Stream owed the town about $1.7 million by Nov. 16, including $764,123 for electricity usage and $585,807 for "service fees" to run the recycling program. The town also is seeking reimbursements totaling $367,186 that officials said it had to pay to dispose of rejected recyclables.
Flower said Green Stream would "probably not" make the payment by Nov. 16. He blamed new policies imposed this year by the Chinese government that have caused prices for cardboard and other recyclables to plummet.
"[Green Stream] has racked up tremendous losses over the past year due to the changes in market conditions,” Flower said. “You can’t expect a company to lose millions of dollars and stay in business.”
Brookhaven officials said they were considering possible legal action against the company.
"They've decided to abrogate their contract and stop providing their services to us, which I find not only surprising but disappointing," Romaine said.
Critics of single-stream recycling say it causes products to become spoiled by residue such as moisture and nonrecyclable material, reducing its value to potential customers. Most Long Island towns employ dual-stream programs, in which sorted recyclables are collected.
Besides its own residents, Brookhaven processes recyclables for three other Long Island towns — Smithtown, Huntington and Southold — as well as several villages and school districts.
Romaine said those municipalities would be given the option of continuing with Brookhaven's program or seeking their own alternatives. Brookhaven already has told Huntington officials that it would not renew its contract to process Huntington's recyclables after Dec. 31, when its current deal expires.
Huntington officials did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said the town is "OK for a few weeks," but it is issuing an emergency bid Thursday for vendors to cart recyclables.
"It's something we were anticipating was going to happen. We already started to make inquiries about it, and we started looking at other programs," she said. "Is it unfortunate? Of course it is — we really thought we were going to have more time."
Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said he won’t know the impact on his town until Brookhaven chooses a new recycling operator. Southold will consider returning to a dual-stream system if Brookhaven can no longer process its recyclables, he said.
“We have to look to long-term solutions, so we have to look at Brookhaven or other options down the road,” Russell said. “It might have to change the way we operate in Southold Town.”
With Sophia Chang and David M. Schwartz