Workers sort recyclables at a solid waste processing facility in Cutchogue.
File photo: Denise Civiletti

Can your household reduce the amount of garbage it generates by 88%?

That’s what the average Riverhead household would have to do in order to meet the State Department of Environmental Conservation’s solid waste management goals by 2030.

Riverhead Town currently generates 5.2 pounds of solid waste per capita, according to the draft solid waste management plan prepared by town engineer Drew Dillingham. [A copy of the plan appears below.]

The State DEC’s goal for 2030 is 0.6 pounds per capita.

“I think it’s pretty aggressive,” Dillingham told the town board last month, when he presented the draft solid waste management plan for its review. He acknowledged the DEC’s goal is unrealistic.

The town’s draft plan, which is now available for public comment, projects Riverhead will reduce its the amount to solid waste it generates to 4.9 pounds per person per day.

As of 2019, Riverhead “diverted” just 0.6 pounds per capita per day through recycling and composting and sent 3.6 pounds per capita per day to an up-island incinerator, according to the draft plan.

Riverhead has to get that number up, Dillingham said.

The draft plan calls for hiring a recycling coordinator to oversee the town’s recycling program and increase recycling and waste reduction efforts in Riverhead through public education and outreach.

It also calls for implementing an organics recycling program for food wastes generated in the town.

“Our waste stream is 30% organics, so this is pretty monumental,” Dillingham said. “We’ll be collecting food scraps and bringing then to a recycling facility facility on the west end” that’s permitted for organics recycling, he said. Currently, food wastes are mixed with other nonrecyclable trash and incinerated.

The plan also recommends developing commercial waste and recycling districts in the downtown commercial area and at EPCAL. Commercial solid waste districts would stabilize disposal prices, reduce traffic and provide recycling services to all tenants.

It also recommends assigning a full-time code enforcement officer to investigate sanitation violations, including unlicensed carters.

Riverhead’s existing DEC-approved solid waste management plan was adopted in 1990, about the time that the town implemented residential garbage collection districts and mandatory residential recycling.

Dillingham told the town board last month that an updated solid waste management plan prepared by a consultant the town hired in 2009 was never approved by the DEC. The town paid $60,000 to the consultant but never finalized the plan because the consultant wanted to be paid another $15,000 to respond to “the first round of comments,” Dillingham said, “and that was the end of the deal.”

The state overhauled its solid waste law and regulations in 2018 and the DEC told Dillingham to forget the 2009 plan and start over, because everything had changed, he said.

The DEC gave him a template to work with and has been very cooperative and helpful, Dillingham told the board. He and his staff in the engineering department have worked on the new plan for the past three years. The new draft plan has been pre-approved by the DEC, Dillingham told the board.

Under the town’s existing law, private residences — other than those located in condominium communities, apartment complexes and mobile/manufactured home parks — have trash and recyclables collection provided by a carter contracted by the town. The service is paid for through a special district tax.

Condominium communities, mobile home parks and apartment complexes have private carter contracts. Recycling is still mandatory, but it’s left up to the private community and carter to implement.

Commercial, institutional and industrial establishments also must arrange for private collection services.

2013 1224 recycling

What happens to the trash you place curbside

Solid waste from homes located in one of the town’s garbage districts is collected by the town-contracted carter and brought to the Town of Brookhaven transfer station in Yaphank, where it is loaded onto larger trucks and taken to an incinerator operated by Covanta located in Westbury. Steam produced by the 1,700-ton-per-day incinerator drives an 80megawatt turbine generator, producing electricity for in-plant use and for sale to the utility company. The ash byproduct is shipped to the Brookhaven landfill in Yaphank.

Cardboard and paper collected by the town’s contracted carter are brought to Great Northern Fibers in West Babylon, where they are cleaned, baled and prepared for transport by a hauler, which takes then to Newark, New Jersey for shipment to China.

Co-mingled recyclables collected by the town-contracted carter are brought to the Town of Islip’s material recovery facility in Holbrook, where they are processed and separated.

Glass is brought to the Town of Islip’s landfill where it is used as ground cover.

Metal, aluminum and tin are brought to Suffolk Industrial Recovery Corp (PK Metals) in Coram, where they are processed, baled and shipped to a “downstream user,” depending on pricing.

Residual recycling is brought to Winter Brothers Recycling in West Babylon for processing. There, recyclables are sorted and plastics, tin and aluminum are recovered, baled and sold to various manufacturers to produce new products.

Any non-recyclable MSW is brought from the Islip materials recovery facility to the Town of Islip’s incinerator (also operated by Covanta) in Ronkonkoma. The ash byproduct is brought to the Brookhaven Town landfill.

Dillingham said the Brookhaven landfill is scheduled to close in 2024. After it closes, incinerator ash will likely have to be shipped off-island, he said, “and that’s going to be super-expensive.”

The town board thanked the town engineer for his efforts in drafting eh plan in-house.

“I know what you did here saved the town quite a lot of money,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said. “It was a big undertaking for you and your staff.”

The town board has scheduled a public hearing on the draft plan at 2:05 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19.

A 45-day public comment period is now underway and will close on May 29. Comments should be sent to the Riverhead Town Clerk, 200 Howell Avenue, Riverhead NY 11901 ([email protected] )

Town of Riverhead Draft Solid Waste Management Plan by RiverheadLOCAL on Scribd

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.