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Cemetery wreaths recycled into an energy source

Covanta Energy helps collect the holiday remembrances from veterans cemeteries across Long Island. The wreaths will generate over 7,000 kilowatt hours, which is enough to supply electricity to eight homes for a month, according to officials.

Seasonal wreaths that had been placed on veterans'

Seasonal wreaths that had been placed on veterans' graves at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, are collected by volunteers Saturday. Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

Each year during the holidays, thousands of wreaths are laid at the graves of veterans in cemeteries across Long Island. But what happens to them afterward?

One Long Island waste management company is helping a veterans nonprofit group dispose of the wreaths, which the company then turns into clean energy for local homes and businesses.

Covanta Energy, an energy-from-waste company with four Long Island facilities, Saturday helped collect wreaths from Long Island veterans cemeteries, joining volunteers from Wreaths Across America. That nonprofit also works with volunteers nationwide to place the wreaths on the veterans' headstones.

Harry Rathsam,  a coordinator for the Wreaths Across America program at the Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, said the number of wreaths left at the cemetery dramatically increased last year.

“Last year was a big jump for us . . . we never had the amount of wreaths that we had,” said Rathsam, 45, of Seaford. Volunteers normally had to dispose of roughly 3,000 wreaths annually from the Pinelawn cemetery after they first began clearing them in 2006. In 2018, that number jumped to 45,000.

Rathsam said Covanta's assistance, since last year, helped volunteers remove thousands of discarded wreaths from the cemetery much faster. On Saturday, more than 100 volunteers pitched in at the Pinelawn site. 

“It’s definitely a convenience,” Rathsam said. “This year, we had people loading up dumpsters all over the cemetery at one time.”

Saturday marked the first time Covanta, which collected 40,000 wreaths from both Long Island National Cemetery and Calverton National Cemetery, delivered the wreaths to all four of its Long Island facilities, in Babylon, Hempstead, Huntington and Islip. The metal frames were separated for recycling, while the remaining wreath materials unable to be recycled were burned. 

Altogether, the 40,000 wreaths the four facilities collected — which collectively weighed more than 23 tons — will generate over 7,000 kilowatt hours, which is enough to supply electricity to eight homes for a month, according to Covanta officials.

The company will also recycle 1,000 pounds of steel frames from the wreaths — enough to make more than 250 steel bike frames.

Edward Sandkuhl, facility manager for Covanta Hempstead Co. in Westbury, said as a veteran who served in the Marines from1992  to 1997 in Europe, the Persian Gulf, Africa and Cuba, he can appreciate how important it is to help veterans' groups.

"It sends an important message to the people and the service members themselves that the people in the community care about them and are appreciative of the sacrifices that they've made," Sandkuhl said.

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