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Long Island’s shameful recycling rate

Employees sort paper at the Green Stream recycling

Employees sort paper at the Green Stream recycling facility in Brookhaven. Credit: Newsday / Sam Guzik

The Town of Oyster Bay has jumped on the single-stream recycling bandwagon. The more the merrier.

Single-stream recycling — the practice of using one container for all recyclables, and sorting them in a new kind of recycling plant — has been common around the country for years. Long Island has been late to the game. That’s a big reason why the region still recycles only about 15 percent of its garbage, according to local industry experts, shamefully behind the national average of 34 percent.

And Long Island’s figure actually has crept up as a handful of local municipalities have embraced the technology — most notably Brookhaven Town, which partnered with Green Stream Recycling on a single-stream facility in Yaphank in 2014, then signed contracts with Huntington, Smithtown, Southold and Southampton towns and some villages and school districts to accept their single-stream recycling.

It’s time the rest of Long Island embraces single-stream. But Brookhaven’s plant is the only one of its kind on Long Island, and it’s maxed out; its capacity could increase if Green Stream gets the state permits it needs to expand its storage capacity and adds a second shift of workers. West Babylon-based Winters Bros., which won the Oyster Bay contract, plans to cart the recyclables to its facility in Shelton, Conn. That means big trucks generating more traffic and more wear and tear on local roads.

Long Island needs another single-stream recycling facility — hopefully, eventually, more than one. Such facilities can be difficult to site. Leadership in a municipality that has empty land or a spare building will be critical. Brookhaven, under Supervisor Ed Romaine, provided its own recycling center for the new plant. In 2013, New York City partnered with a private company to turn an old police impound yard in Brooklyn into a new recycling plant. Creativity also will be an asset; Winters Bros. built its Shelton facility in a former Wiffle ball plant.

These plants should be considered essential parts of our modern infrastructure — factories that take our waste and extract raw materials that are turned into usable products. They also generate jobs with solid wages for local residents. And building this kind of plant would allow a government to do what Brookhaven did — share services with other municipalities, the kind of action Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is pushing as part of a cost-saving plan.

By now, no one should need convincing of the value of switching to single-stream recycling. The evidence shows that recycling participation increases, governments save money, more of the stuff we mindlessly toss away is reused, less garbage is burned, and less landfill space is used, a critical factor on Long Island. Our governments and recycling companies must do a better job of educating consumers to make single-stream recycling a habit, and more must be done to increase it among businesses and multifamily developments.

We applaud the new leadership in Oyster Bay for embracing single-stream recycling. But we hope it’s only one more step on the long road toward getting more of Long Island to recycle more of what it throws away. — The editorial board