The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency Board is urging The Ulster County Legislature to move away from single-stream recycling and to a dual-stream model that separates paper from glass and plastic as is done in the city of Kingston.
UCRRA officials say single-stream recycling, originally promoted with hopes of getting more residents to recycle by eliminating the need to separate paper and cardboard from plastic and glass items, has actually resulted in more “contamination” of recyclables. And they say that makes them less marketable and results in more items ending up in the regular trash.
Board Member Tom Kacandes said he wants to draft a letter to the County Legislature asking them to pass a law to eliminate single-stream recycling which he billed a “totally unproductive exercise.”
“There’s excess trucking and expense for the agency,” he said. “This method has been thoroughly tried and failed in jurisdiction after jurisdiction.”
Kacandes said he wants to change the law governing private garbage haulers who pick up and residences and businesses outside of the city of Kingston to separate cardboard from plastic and glass items.
He said that’s not out of reach for these companies as they could handle route management to run a dedicated recycling truck that separates cardboard and paper from glass and plastic instead of running mixed recycling and garbage trucks.
“Let’s stop playing around, crapping around,” Kacandes said.
Angelina Brandt, the agency’s director of sustainability, said single-stream leads to a very high contamination rate with 20 percent or more of items coming into RRA facilities being contaminated to a level that can’t be sorted out.
“We see some single stream going into the trash being bagged with other garbage,” Brandt said at a recent RRA meeting. And she said this could be only the tip of the iceberg as less than 20 percent of the recycling in Ulster County passes through the facility.
She admitted they are subject to the discretion of what private haulers who pick up at homes and businesses are reporting.
Charles Whittaker, the RRA’s director of operations and compliance, said he’s seen garden hoses and even kiddie pools ending up on the floor of the recycling facility. “We know there’s a lot of contamination and it ends up at the transfer station or the incinerator.” Whittaker said the private haulers have a whole different agenda.
Board member Charles Landi noted that automated trucks used in single-stream recycling allow private haulers to do 1000 houses a day, up from a few hundred a day in years past.
Board Member Kathie Beinkafner suggested that perhaps private haulers could take the recycling they pick up to town transfer stations.
But Whittaker said that can’t happen as New York state Department of Environmental Conservation laws limit town transfer stations to residential use. “Residents have their place to go and haulers have their place to go,” Whittaker said. “That’s the way the system was designed 30 years ago.” He said back then the county provided towns with $40,000 to build drop centers along with $500,000 to close their landfills. And that still leaves the agency in debt.
Ulster County Legislator Manna Jo Greene, who attended the virtual meeting said she believes single-stream recycling presents a problem in marketing the material.
Greene who represents the towns of Marbletown and Rosendale in the Legislature’s District 1 is no stranger to the RRA as she worked there as he agency’s Recycling Coordinator from 1990-2000 and presently serves as Clearwater Sloop’s Environmental Action Director.
“The way to market material is quality, quality, we learned that 30 years ago,” she said. “Someone along the way said we didn’t have to dual-stream. If we don’t have to separate paper and cans we’ll get higher participation.” But this results in things like spaghetti sauce getting on the newspaper, she said.
An effective dual-stream system will help the agency process waste in a cost-effective way in a system that’s really designed for dual-stream, Greene said.
She said the town transfer stations do the best job of separating things in the recycling stream that don’t belong together.
She pointed to the Marbletown Town Transfer Station, which once even went so far as to separate glass by color into green, amber and clear glass. Glass can present a problem as it gets crushed in trucks and the little fragments can damage the machinery.
“Keeping it separate allows us to market it,” Greene said. “It’s marketable if it’s a pure product.”