Dual stream recycling: a solution to Long Island’s growing crisis?

On Jan. 1, the town of Huntington will transition to a dual stream recycling program to combat Long Island’s emerging recycling crisis. The change comes in response to a new Chinese policy that reduces the amount of recyclables that China—the world’s largest buyer of recycled goods—will accept from the U.S.

To reduce the increasing backlog of waste, Huntington officials believe transitioning to the dual stream recycling system will solve this problem. The dual stream process requires Huntington residents to separate their recyclable glass, plastic and metal and keep it apart from paper and cardboard. The two different categories of material are then picked up separately in alternating weeks. With the single stream system, currently in use, all recyclables are mixed into the same bin and picked up once a week.

Fewer U.S. contaminated recyclable materials will be purchased by China due to the reduced acceptable level of contamination the new Chinese “National Sword” policy introduces.

“Typically, 50 percent of what people put in their recycling bin is never recycled,” said John Clark, director of environmental waste management for Huntington. Clark says that by returning to dual stream recycling, the town will receive less contaminated recyclables and reduce costs by 75 percent.

Chad Lupinacci, town supervisor of Huntington, agrees. “Our philosophy is that by producing a better curbside product, we’ll improve the quality of our marketable recyclables and receive more favorable pricing.”

The town of Brookhaven is also considering the switch to dual stream.

“It may be in our best interest to go back to dual stream.” said Matt Miner, director of operations for Brookhaven.

Since the policy was put into place, the Brookhaven recycling facility has seen an increased amount of recyclables ending up in landfills due to fewer being accepted, according to Green Stream, a Long Island recycling company.

Increased landfill use is a public health problem, says Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocate group to protect natural resources and public health. She describes how the landfill odors carry toxic chemicals, bacteria and fungi, all of which are bad for people to be breathing.

“Living next to a landfill is unhealthy.” said Esposito.

However, transitioning to a dual stream system may not be enough. Residents also need to become educated and do their part to make recycling effective.

“The public needs to improve their recycling habits and make sure that only materials that are recyclable are placed out on the curb for collection.” said Will Flower, vice president of Winters Bros. Waste Systems, a Long Island solid waste and recycling services company. “There’s no silver bullet and there’s no easy solution. It’s not a single stream versus dual stream issue. It’s a recycling issue.”