Though the yellow garbage bag system might not be the most popular amongst Southold Town residents, it is the most cost effective method for the Town to manage solid waste disposal at the longstanding Cutchogue solid waste facility and is the best way the Town has to comply with New York State mandated recycling goals, according to Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
Russell and members of the Southold Town Board held a special meeting at Town Hall Thursday night to explain the state mandates and breakdown what actually happens at the solid waste management facility. A slideshow revealed that yellow bags, which can be purchased at the solid waste facility or at select retail stores in town, not only provide the town with $425,000 of its annual $4,154,00 revenue, the yellow bag system has also dramatically increased recycling efforts by residents in Southold Town since its state approval in 1995 (see the full presentation attached to this article).
The Town currently has an annual recycling rate of 31 percent — the highest of any on Long Island, according to a study conducted by the Stony Brook University Waste Reduction and Management Institute.
“And that recycling rate is a direct result of the pay-as-you-throw yellow bag system,” Russell told an audience of about 30 people Thursday night.
But with the option of paying a private carter — and more private carters now trying to do business in town — residents have become more confused by the yellow bag requirement. The Town took legal steps to stop Riverhead-based private carter Go-Green Sanitation from picking up garbage curbside that is not in yellow bags — even thought the carter takes the garbage to Medford, not the town's transfer station.
Go-Green Sanitation was issued violations earlier this year for picking up residential refuse that was not in as is required by the Town. In July, the Town lifted a restraining order and allowed Go-Green to get back to business as usual — but on Nov. 23, all residents will be required to packed up their garbage in yellow bags, and private carters cannot pick up any garbage from their residential customers in Southold Town unless they use the yellow bags, the supervisor said.
Russell acknowledged that the yellow bags are not biodegradable, but that biodegradable bags would not be of the same quality and would “serve no purpose here.”
“Yes, we are adding the bag to the waste stream, but that waste stream has been reduced by using the bag,” Russell said. “We can no longer afford to operate a landfill here — we ship much of our garbage out of town to be incinerated, and the use of the yellow bag forces people to reduce what they throw out.”
Russell, addressing the issue of the cost of each yellow bag, added that residents are not only purchasing a bag from the Town — they are also helping to pay for a system that carts the garbage away.
“I know how it can seem costly, but we’re a community that has proven we can control costs by being diligent about keeping our garbage to a minimum — we have a very Yankee spirit here,” Russell said.
Mattituck resident John Fletcher said he didn’t buy Russell’s argument, saying that the yellow bag system puts too much of a burden on residents instead of businesses and commercial ventures that are currently exempt from the yellow bag law.
“We’re paying at least $3.50 for these bags, that's some big bucks for something as simple as garbage here,” he said. “And it is just garbage, we’re not talking about invading Omaha Beach here — it’s crazy how complicated you’re making it and as a resident, I feel I’m getting screwed. I work at the hospital — why doesn’t a big commercial operation like the hospital have to use yellow bags? Do you know how much they throw out into these huge dumpsters that aren’t even from around here? I have to live with the yellow bag rule — why doesn’t everyone have to?”
Russell said that businesses pay a premium for waste that is brought into the solid waste facility over the scales and that he and board members are working to encourage businesses and larger-scale commercial operations to embrace recycling at the local solid waste facility.
“Reducing and recycling are in everyone’s best interests,” Russell said. “Garbage on Long Island has to be addressed collectively for long-term solutions, but for the time being here locally, the yellow bag system works and there is no other option right now. We have a law and we have to honor it.”