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Committee created to improve townwide recycling efforts in Brookhaven

The committee will be tasked with finding ways of promoting recycling and helping residents get re-acclimated to the reinstituted dual-stream system.

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Scott

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and Scott Convery, of Holtsville, show off a new paper-only recycling bin at Town Hall on Monday. Credit: Andrew Theodorakis

Brookhaven officials have appointed a committee including residents, town employees and a college student to improve recycling — and get more people to do it.

The five-member committee was created last month in the wake of the town's decision  in November to scrap its single-stream recycling program amid plummeting prices for paper, cardboard, plastic and other recyclables. The town also stopped curbside collection of glass, and it no longer recycles contaminated items such as cardboard milk cartons and grease-stained pizza boxes.

Brookhaven has resumed its old practice of collecting paper and cardboard separately from bottles and cans. The change was made after China, the world's biggest importer of American recyclables, drastically curtailed purchases of recycled cardboard and plastic.

The changes have left some residents grumbling that the new rules are confusing. The committee will be tasked with finding ways of promoting recycling and helping residents get re-acclimated to the reinstituted dual-stream system.

“We think it’s pretty good now, but you can always improve,” Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said in an interview. "We’re looking for ways from the public.”

The committee, made up of town employees with relevant experience and people who came forward to volunteer, includes Chris Andrade, the town's solid waste and recycling chief; town residents Elaine Maas and Scott Convery; Stony Brook University student Margot Eckstein; and Nicole Pocchiare, a town recycling and environmental educator. 

Maas, a Stony Brook resident who was the town's first recycling educator in the late 1980s, said she hopes to reinvigorate efforts to bring recycling programs into local schools. Children, she said, often are the best recycling advocates — and they help their parents break bad habits.

“We want kids to keep on board with this, and who knows, maybe they will come up with ways to reach out to the public,” Maas said. "Kids sometimes do take the lead and carry the gauntlet, whereas their parents might be set in their ways."
Maas said homeowners can become better recyclers by making simple changes in their daily routines. One change she advocates is buying a single large bottle rather than multiple smaller bottles; that reduces the amount of stuff that goes into the waste stream, she said.

“I think people were throwing things out that weren’t recyclable,” such as plastic bags, she said. “Now that it’s more in the news, they’re more aware. At least they allowed themselves to be more aware.” 

Romaine said the committee, which hasn't met yet, will be asked to study recycling programs that work and recommend ways that Brookhaven can improve its own efforts. He noted that some American cities and towns reportedly have disbanded or curtailed recycling because of rising costs and falling commodities prices.

“We definitely have good ideas of how we can improve recycling, at a time when many places are leaving,” Romaine said.

Maas said resistance among residents to change their ways is understandable. But she said most people get used to recycling when they have the right information.

"We see some of the same reluctance to make changes that I saw in the 1980s," she said. "Then people got on board.”

The panel

Members of the Town of Brookhaven Advisory Committee on Recycling were appointed on March 14. They are:

Chris Andrade, commissioner of recycling and sustainable materials management

Scott Convery, Holtsville resident

Margot Eckstein, student in Stony Brook University's sustainability studies program

Elaine Maas, Stony Brook resident, former Brookhaven recycling educator

Nicole Pocchiare, town recycling and environmental educator

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