Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Northern Westchester Bureau Chief
Catherine Wilson

Cleaning Up Our Act

In November, 2007, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano announced that the County would be enforcing the Source Separation Law. Starting January 7, 2008, the County would require municipalities and garbage haulers to flag garbage and recyclables, not properly separated, with a yellow sticker. After February 1, 2008, any garbage not in compliance would be tagged with a red sticker and not be removed. In addition to fines, civil and criminal penalties might also be imposed.

Given such a stern announcement, many local residents are concerned as to how this law will impact them and their privacy. The Guardian interviewed the County administrators, local municipalities, and trash haulers to determine what impact this will have on the citizens in our area. To be honest, we shared the concern that this would be Big Brother sniffing around in our personal garbage. What we found was a win-win situation that everyone involved with was excited about participating in. Who knew people could get so jazzed up over garbage?

The Source Separation Law which was the basis for the County Executive’s announcement, is not a new law. It was enacted on July 20, 1992. Its stated purpose was “to protect the environment and to manage the solid waste stream in Westchester County” (Source Separation
Law Sec. 825.11 – the full text of this law is available on the County website at http://www.westchestergov.com/).

As Lou Vetrone, the Deputy Director of the Westchester Solid Waste Commission explained to The Guardian, the County is now attempting to increase the compliance with this law. “Westchester County is one of the best counties in New York State for Cleaning Up Our Act
recycling” Mr. Vetrone noted. “We recycled over 46% of our waste in 2006, whereas New York City recycles less than 30%. However, out west, in places like California, that percentage is closer to 70%.”

The County was taking steps to improve compliance with the recycling law months before Spano’s announcement last November. According to Vetrone, in August 2007 the County formed a Recycling Enforcement Task Force comprised of the County’s Solid Waste Commission, Public Safety departments, and the Department of Environmental Facilities. The task force’s commendable first step was to audit all County facilities to ensure that the government institutions responsible for enforcing the law were not themselves in violation of the law. The goal
was for the County to hold itself up as a successful role model. “We made sure that the County was in compliance first before we told anyone else what to do” Vetrone bemused. “Based on that audit, we then made recommendations for the public. We sent out over 400,000
mailings to homes and held seminars for municipalities, private haulers, schools, businesses, hospitals, and sanitation crews. Then we
revamped the County’s website to include self-audit forms for municipalities and schools/hospitals/businesses/etc,” said Vetrone.

The County has been doing extensive due diligence on recycling compliance. “The law has been around since 1992,” Vetrone noted. “So all the county is trying to do is enforce it.” To that end, the task force sent out inspectors to sites and personally inspected 750 loads of garbage. They issued warnings to haulers not in compliance and, in some instances, tracked the non compliant trash back to the waste generator. But the public should not be concerned that the County will start looking through their personal garbage. “We are not looking for the Coke bottle in your garbage,” Vetrone stressed. “We are looking for egregious violations. No one is going to get a $250 fine because they tossed a soda can into the garbage. We’re looking for violators who don’t recycle.” In addition to the privacy issue, another concern of the public has been
the matter of using clear trash bags for recyclable garbage. Vetrone noted that, “The county is not requiring the use of clear bags for recyclables. Recyclables are never in clear bags, they belong in the sorting bins”. However, Vetrone did note that some private haulers may require their customers to use clear bags for waste disposal purposes.

The County is taking a positive approach to enforcing the recycling law. “We are looking at this as a partnership with our citizens,” Vetrone
continued. “We are leaving a bigger carbon footprint on our planet so we need to reduce that. Plus, recycling reduces our tax bill. The more we recycle, the less it costs the county.” The County is already seeing benefits from this enforcement. On February 1 of this year, Spano announced that, “Revenue generated by recyclables brought to the County recycling center last month broke a record of $903,350.80. The previous record was about $700,000.” That’s already an increase in revenues of almost $2.5 million a year. The County enforcement
procedures are still in their infancy so the potential for even greater revenues from increased recycling exists.

The County’s lead on improving compliance has generated raves from an unlikely source – the private waste haulers. Diane Chickering, the Account Representative and Recycling Coordinator for Suburban Carting, stressed that, “The tools from the County have
been very helpful. The County gave us a head start last August. They’ve added a lot of structure. The results have been wonderful; it helps to get customers in compliance.” Suburban Carting is taking their role in recycling beyond the trash dumps. Ms. Chickering goes to schools, nursing homes, businesses, and municipalities to give talks and seminars on the benefits of recycling.

“It’s terrific to see a kindergartener get excited about helping our planet,” Chickering enthused “I can’t stop talking about recycling to people. When we recycle, each and every one of us is doing our part.”

Private haulers also see a financial benefit from increased recycling by their customers. As Chickering explained, “With the increased recycling efforts the (paper products & cardboard) and the volume, the market for these materials is very high right now. This is very good because it helps us keep the additional (recycling) operations cost down. This is passed onto our customer. For example the rate we charge the customer for trash rate is higher than our cardboard rate. That is where the customer can see the difference.

It is cheaper to pick up recyclable items than trash”. Suburban Carting is the private hauler for the towns of North Castle and New Castle, the latter of which is taking an even greater lead in “going green.” New Castle is priding itself as being at the forefront of combating climate change. On February 12, the town board adopted a resolution pledging to reduce greenhouse gases and to adapt to a changing environment.

According to the town’s followup press release, “The 10 measures in the resolution include a commitment to encourage renewable energy; realizing the benefits of recycling; and incorporating climate changes, sustainability, and environmental goods and services into any economic plans the Town may adopt”. New Castle is the first town in New York State to officially pledge its commitment to combat climate change.
But only The Guardian attended the February 12th meeting to report this important milestone – Cable 12, The Journal News, and other regional media did not brave the snowstorm to attend the town meeting!

In its efforts, New Castle will be partnering with the newly developed NYS Office of Climate Change. The town’s press release notes that “by partnering with the state, New Castle will have access to the Office of Climate Change’s technical staff of engineers, economists, and researchers. They’ll help assist the Town through the process, and possibly help secure funding necessary for the measures the Town
commits to adopt”.

The climate change resolution by the Town of New Castle is already more than just a pledge. The Town will be hosting a forum on Wednesday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall to discuss recycling laws and procedures with the public. According to Ms. Lori
Sachare, the Public Information Officer for the Town of New Castle, “We are definitely encouraging our residents to think green”. That attitude was evident at the February 12 hearing where several residents expressed their opinions on the proposal to address the garbage
issues for the businesses on Allen Place.

The local residents weighed the benefits of collecting garbage from one dumpster at one time as opposed to the current system of multiple dumpsters/collections. David Rambo, the Assistant Commissioner of Public Works for the town, noted that, “Establishing a transfer
station for the garbage pickup will result in fewer pickups.”

Other towns are seeing similar responses to this issue. Marco Gennarelli, the Superintendent of the Department of Public Works for the Village of Croton-on-Hudson said that, “So far, there are no problems with the recycling compliance.” Gennarelli did note that multi-family buildings are tough, but the village has been talking to building managers to achieve compliance.

The County is already taking even further steps to reduce the trash in our midst. The “Treasure Hunt” page on the County website is a popular source for residents to swap their unused items with each other, for free. Items on this page have ranged from medical and
business equipment to personal items like furniture and large swing sets to left-over building materials from construction sites. This page is updated every week for new “treasures”. County residents can even post a wish list of items they are searching for on this
site.

These new compliance measures are just the tip of the iceberg for the county. As Mr. Vetrone noted, “San Francisco has the highest rate of recycling in the country, over 70%. But they achieve those rates because they also do composting.” Vetrone continued that
several towns in northern Westchester are now encouraging composting, especially for leaves. “Addressing organic waste is the next logical step,” Vetrone noted. Ms. Chickering pointed out that while Suburban Carting can recycle all classifications of plastics (symbols 1
through 6) most municipalities are currently only accepting types 1 and 2 for recycling. Expanding the acceptability of all types of plastics for recycling will result in even greater revenues for the County.

As for all those recycled items; they end up as new products. According to Suburban Carting, glass manufacturers regularly use recycled glass in the production of new containers with percentages of recycled material ranging from 7%-50%. Unlike glass or steel, paper degrades each time it is recycled. for this reason, not all recycled paper goes directly to manufacturers to make more paper. Some of it is used to create
insulation, animal bedding or in composting.

Publications from Suburban Carting stress the importance of recycling to their clients by reminding them that, “Plastic is made from fossil fuel (approximately 30% oil and 70% natural gas), a non-renewable resource.” Recycling not only reduces our trash and provides a new source of revenues for the County, but it also preserves our planet’s natural resources. Enforcing compliance with the County’s existing recycling law makes sense. Any local resident with questions can call the County’s Solid Waste Commission’s new recycling hotline at
914-813-5420.

Northern Westchester Round-Up

Buchanan: The NYS Department of Environmental Protection is calling for the development of a new water cooling facility at Indian Point. The DEC is insisting upon this facility as a stipulation for renewing Entergy’s operating licenses. The DEC alleges that the
current water cooling system dumps billions of gallons of heated water into the Hudson River on a daily basis, killing billions of fish and plant life there.

Ossining: Sandy Galef, NYS Assemblywoman 90th District, announced grants awarded in her district for road and infrastructure improvements. The grants ranged from $20,000 to Croton-on-Hudson for repairs to route 129, to $50,000 to Cortlandt for repairs to King’s Ferry Road.

Yorktown: The town announced that it is dismissing the town attorney, Kevin Sweeney, and is soliciting proposals from law firms and attorneys to represent the town in legal matters. The town supervisor, Don Peters, claims the town can save $200,000 annually by outsourcing its legal services. Peters also favors using a law firm over a single litigator to provide the town with expertise in a variety of areas of law.

– Catherine Wilson

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