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Thinking Again About Garbage

Wed, 06/14/2023 - 17:53


You have likely seen it before: Someone pulls up to a town or village garbage can and stuffs a full bag of household waste inside — or just drops it alongside the can. This adds to the work of the people who empty the bins — and to the money the municipality must pay to have the trash taken to a distant landfill or incinerator. The over-filled bins create litter, too, with seagulls and crows, rats and raccoons dropping by for the easy pickings.

In East Hampton Town in particular, the sheer volume of garbage costs taxpayers a lot of money; its budget for solid waste is approaching twice Southampton’s despite having half the year-round population. East Hampton is projected to spend about $6.4 million on sanitation and recycling this year. Southampton anticipates about $3.7 million in expenses. This is a startling difference, and the way the towns each organize their departments plays a part. However, East Hampton has more employees and pays about $400,000 more in salaries for refuse and recycling staff; its department budget also includes about half a million in debt payments, which Southampton’s does not have.

One thing that Southampton and several other Long Island towns have is a pay-per-bag system, which East Hampton does not. In East Hampton, residents without private carter service buy an annual permit to take their garbage and recyclables to its two waste stations or pay a hefty per-trip entry fee. In Southampton, there is no charge to deposit sorted glass, paper, cardboard, and certain types of plastic and metal cans; true trash goes into the bags, which are available at retail stores. While Southampton says the program is open only to residents, no one is being asked for identification when buying bags; this means that unlike in East Hampton, summer renters and short-term visitors can take advantage of this sensible arrangement.

According to people who use the paid bags, their garbage habits improve over time. Kitchen-size medium bags are about $2 each, which encourages many Southampton residents to be more scrupulous about separating their trash. In East Hampton, the flat fee structure provides no incentive for recycling. Bag fans also say that they become more attentive over time to the volume of trash they produce, even beginning to shy away from overly packaged products. The reduced garbage stream is a factor in why Southampton’s waste and recycling costs are as low as they are, though to what degree is not immediately obvious.

The point is there is more than one way to get rid of trash. East Hampton, too, might benefit from a pay-per-bag option. And maybe, just maybe, folks will put their weekend waste in the public trash bins a little less often.

A pilot kitchen compost program pitched by East Hampton Town Councilman Cate Rogers is another promising way to reduce what ends up in the nonrecyclable bins, and we hope this can move forward and become the new norm here.

And while we’re on the subject of trash, Saturday is one of the two days a year when East Hampton Town offers residents a chance to safely dispose of hazardous household waste like old varnish, kerosene, insecticides, and paint thinners. The goal of these STOP Days — that stands for Stop Throwing Out Pollutants — is to keep the many dangerous materials we use around our house from ending up in landfills. While there is a cost associated with bringing in an outside company to handle the pollutants, the benefits are so great that it seems well worthwhile for the town to explore offering this opportunity more than twice a year.

Saturday’s STOP Day is at the East Hampton Recycling Center from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The second STOP Day is held in the fall at the Montauk Recycling Center, so if you haven’t had a chance to collect all that noxious junk that shouldn’t enter the waste stream in time for this first one, hold onto it for next time.

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