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Recycling hits snags in Wayne County

by WayneTimes.com
January 30, 2021

Remember the words Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Federal, state and local municipalities spent fortunes pounding the idea into businesses and households for years

Wayne County  joined the forefront of recycled materials by creating the Western Finger Lakes Solid Waste Management Authority back in the 1980s. It was a lead multi-county agency that would recycle as much cardboard, plastics, glass and paper as companies and individuals could produced.

Initial acceptance was slow; it sounded good on paper, and over the years both private and public entities joined the noble cause to reduce solid waste.

National businesses began reducing and changing packaging. Local businesses and homeowners found recycling  was in the best interest of all. A new profitable business developed, collecting and selling recyclables into an eager business model.

All was well in the world of recycling as new avenues for goods developed. Companies touted “Made with recycled  materials”  as a selling point.

Unfortunately, as recycled materials hit a stride, companies and individuals got sloppy. From separating paper, plastics, cardboard and glass into separate receptacles, the next move to increase participation was single-source recycling, where anything recyclable was put into one container for curbside pick-up.

The plan backfired, as glass shattered,   unacceptable plastics and ‘dirty’ materials made good recyclables no longer pristine. Newspapers, magazines, junk mail and cardboard often became indistinguishable. This led to less than clean materials and a market that was soon unwilling to bear the cost of separation.

Soon, national, state and local solid waste authorities were backlogged with contaminated materials. Profitability sank, with the biggest blow coming from overseas markets unwilling to accept the ‘dirty’ recycled materials. China, once the largest county by far  accepting recycled materials, cut off acceptance of US. ‘trash’. Add to this,  unstable markets and recycled  materials became victims of price fluctuations.

Sure, there are still markets for metals, cardboard and clean paper, but plastics took the biggest hit.

Laws began to change. States realized plastic grocery bags caused problems in the market, and states began to ban them.

Hard-to-recycle, unprofitable plastics, that became a mainstay of daily life,  failed to  build a working market.

Local ‘authorities’ began to dissolve as the need for recycled goods evaporated. In response, Wayne County joined other municipalities in throwing the problem down to area garbage companies. Laws were created to license garbage companies, requiring them to collect and handle the recycling solution.

It all sounded good for years, but the problem of unmarketable recycled goods only grew. Reputable garbage companies were required to set up solid waste recycling plans that required hiring additional people, equipment and strict reporting plans to the county.

Eventually, with the decline in many markets, a good deal of the recyclable materials were ending up as landfill. 

Another problem arose as garbage companies following the rules, clashed with companies ignoring, or quasi-ignoring the rules. Garbage companies attempting to gain an upper hand offered low weekly/monthly garbage rates by cutting costs and quietly combining garbage and recycling, all ending up in landfills.

The Wayne County Economic Development/Planning Department issues garbage hauler permits each year; however, have no way to verify the information they are provided is correct. 

At the January 8,  Economic Development/Planning Committee, Director Brian Pincelli, informed Supervisors that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was requesting solid waste management plans from each county. Wayne County does not have such a viable plan and Pincelli does not believe he or his staff have the expertise to create one. 

As the County does not manage a landfill, like many counties do, they do not have a lot of the information being requested by DEC.

Galen Town Supervisor Steve Groat questioned at the January 8 meeting  just who is responsible for making certain that haulers are disposing of their recyclable materials in the proper manner. 

A lengthy discussion followed on solid waste, but with no results.

Kevin Wright at K&D Disposal, followed all the rules originally set down by the County. He bought additional trucks and equipment for separate recycling routes for his customers and hired extra staff.

In Wayne County, a few trash companies, not following regular recycling habits, began undercutting prices.  Kevin began questioning county officials on who, what and why good recycling practices were falling by the roadside. “No one at the county level knew who would be responsible for enforcement”, stated Wright.

Al Plumb, from Alpco Recycling in Macedon runs a drop-off garbage and recycling center for businesses and households. “Metal (recycling) is very good, cardboard is up a bit, paper is  not bad,” commented Al. He admitted that some plastic, such as milk jugs and laundry bottles, #1 and #2 plastics are still marketable, but #3-#7 simply aren’t any good. He agreed that, unfortunately, most plastics are just thrown into landfills.

Plumb also confirmed that some trash companies, with divider bin compartments in their main trucks, do attempt to separate garbage from recycling on their routes. He admitted that many recycled materials can run a loss with market variations.

Wayne County Administrator, Rick House, said he too has seen garbage trucks combining trash and recycling. “I get these complaints, but what to do after that I simply don’t know.”

House said that, unfortunately, after simply licensing of $25 per truck and proof of insurance, the County no longer has the means to ensure haulers are following recycling rules. “We simply do not have the enforcement authority in the recycling issue. We do not have a solid waste disposal plan.” House added.

Kevin Frazier from New York State  Department of Conservation (DEC) submitted the following statement to the Times concerning this issue. 

New York State remains a national leader in advancing forward-thinking recycling strategies, programs, and policies focused on responsible and sustainable stewardship to better protect the health of our communities and the environment. Recycling is required by law in New York. It decreases the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators, slows the rate of the extraction of raw materials from the earth, decreases greenhouse gas emissions, and helps to reduce litter. DEC will continue to work with municipalities across the state and all stakeholders to advance New York’s robust waste and recycling initiatives and will hold accountable anyone who violates our stringent environmental laws.

State law (General Municipal Law Section 120aa) requires that waste collection companies offer the same level of service for collection of source-separated recyclables as is offered for collection of garbage and are not permitted to co-mingle the two streams. GML 120aa also requires localities to pass their own recycling laws that match its requirements...The most recent version of the Wayne County Recycling law DEC has on file, includes a prohibition on commingling recyclables with other wastes. DEC regulations also apply, but not at the point of residential collection.

 DEC recently received a complaint of improper waste management practices in Wayne County and is investigating the matter with the Wayne County Sherriff’s office. DEC will continue to work with Wayne County officials and all stakeholders to ensure all rules and regulations governing waste management are followed and New York’s stringent environmental laws are enforced.

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