Assembly Sets 85% By 2022 Recycling Goal
Assemblyman Steve Englebright couldn’t believe his ears when told waste from New York could end up in quarries in Ohio.
Wanting to preserve the types of areas Englebright went as a youth to search for fossils prompted the Setauket Democrat to propose A.4117, which sets a goal in the state Environmental Conservation Law for New York to reduce, reuse, recycle or compost no less than 85% of the solid waste generated by the year 2032.
It’s hard to tell if the Assembly bill will become law, however. Companion legislation has yet to be introduced in the state Senate with roughly two months left in the state legislative session.
California has already set a statewide approach to decrease reliance on landfills and set a goal of 75% for recycling, composting and solid waste reduction by 2022. The European Union also has targets for recycling 65% of municipal waste, 75% of packaging waste and reducing municipal waste in landfills to a maximum of 10% by 2030.
“We’ve heard some of my colleagues speak about moving solid waste off of Long Island to upstate,” Englebright said. “We’re talking about putting it into quarries for the most part. In Ohio, the great quarries, I used to go there when I was much younger to collect fossils. It hurts me to think we’re going to fill those classic geological sites with garbage. We need to do better. Part of that is to join together, and I sense that we are close to being joined together here on this issue, and to work together along with empowering the department to do the same. Setting this goal is an important — late, but I hope not too late — moment in the history of our state. We need to face this. I think we can solve this problem. We don’t need to send out waste to the great quarries sin the suburbs of Cincinnati. That’s nuts. We can do better.”
In 2020, the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities eliminated glass from its curbside recycling program because the market for glass recycling was so poor the utility company was losing money on glass recycling and because customers wanted the utility to collect other recyclables more often.
Jamestown area residents that still want to recycle glass can take it to the Falconer transfer station.
Technically the colored glass and clear glass are not recycled, but are broken down and used by the county’s DPW department at the landfill, in place of stone.
Glass with deposits on them are the cleanest glass and sought by recyclers. However, glass at the landfill is often contaminated by light bulbs, window glass, and ovenware. That glass can’t be melted down at high temperatures. Because of this, recycling companies don’t want it.
Used plastic is the most difficult item to recycle and to sell, not only locally, but nationwide. Chautauqua County collects seven different types of plastics. Those include jars, milk jugs and detergents, shampoo, margarine and food containers and yogurt containers. But often people throw all sorts of items that have plastic in them but don’t qualify for recycling.
Motor oil bottles, pesticides, bleach bottles, window wipers all should be thrown away. Certain types of plastics can be turned into coats or carpets. However not all plastics are used for the same purpose so the plastic needs to be separated by resin type manually. The plastic collected through the state’s bottle deposit program has the greatest demand because it is clean and separated.
Demand for the plastics increases with demand from consumers and the rise in energy prices. For a short time in 2020, some of the plastic collected by Chautauqua County had to be placed in the landfill because they couldn’t find a company to take it.
Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, voted for Englebright’s bill, but said the state must help counties and municipalities find markets for their recycled materials so they aren’t just thrown into landfills while the general population is misled, thinking they are helping the planet by putting their garbage out for recycling each week.
The state required in the 1990s local counties and municipalities to develop solid waste management plans, Goodell recalled. At that time, there were no issues with not having markets for recycled goods.
“When we implemented curbside pickups of glass, cardboard and cans we were one of the first in the state and there was a great market for those products,” Goodell said. “We could actually operate it profitably. Thirty years later there has been a huge push, a lot of other people have gotten into the recycling process and there is a huge glut in the market. You can’t give those products away. Some of those products you just can’t give away. As my colleague Mr. Englebright noted, as a result we have curbside pickup. We have colleagues like my colleague, Mr. Fitzpatrick, who is studious about recycling. And after we have sourced separation and everyone is washing their glass, it gets to the landfill and it all gets dumped in.”
According to Waste 360, prices for old corrugated containers and mixed papers have begun rebounding while recycled plastic markets are also increasing — though many prices are still below May 2020 prices due to pandemic-caused business closures.
The rebounding market could help state-backed recycling efforts, but Goodell said New York state must do its part to make sure there are continuously available markets for recycled goods.
“So if we’re serious about this 85% reduction, and I think we are and we should be, we also have to be serious about addressing the economics in developing markets for these recycled materials so we’re not spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars to sort, cycle and recycle, only to dump it in the landfill,” he said. “I applaud the goal. Now the hard work comes in making sure we develop markets so that this will work and not just be a goal on paper.”