How to dispose of millions of tons of solid waste on Long Island, with Brookhaven landfill scheduled to close in 2024, was described as a “looming crisis” during a panel discussion of experts at the Long Island Regional Planning Council meeting Thursday.
Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, who was asked to comment at the end of the panel discussion, offered an even starker viewpoint.
“No, it’s not a looming crisis. It’s now,” Romaine told the standing-room-only crowd of about 100 people gathered in Melville. “Either we get together as a region to resolve this and have a path forward, or this is going to be yet another thing that makes Long Island less desirable to live, work, play, etcetera. Either we start addressing this, or we’re going to suffer.”
The planning council’s probing of the solid waste management challenges Long Island faces brought together representatives of several municipalities, environmentalists, the state Department of Environmental Conservation whose Long Island regional director Carrie Meek-Gallagher was among the panelists, academics and others.
Among the data presented by Michael White, vice chair of the planning council, who gave an overview of the issue:
- The Brookhaven landfill handles the majority of ash from the energy-from-waste facilities, about 350,000 tons of ash annually that is the result of burning the waste.
- The Babylon Landfill handles 50,000 tons of ash.
- Long Island solid waste management is handled through public-private partnership endeavors.
- There are four energy-from-waste facilities on Long Island: Hempstead Covanta, Huntington-Smithtown Covanta, Babylon Covanta and Islip Covanta.
- “Thousands of tons of waste is shipped off Long Island every day, resulting in further stress on our aging and congested highway and bridge infrastructure,” White said. “And this approach is bringing us ever-increasing costs.”
“This sets the stage for our panel,” White said. “The amount of waste generated on Long Island is increasing. The Brookhaven landfill, which opened in the mid-1970s, will close by 2024. With the current volume at the Brookhaven landfill, that means 720,000 tons a year of waste has to find a home somewhere. And another 350,000 tons of ash from the energy from waste facilities will have to find a home somewhere.”
The panel consisted of White; Meek-Gallagher; Will Flower of Winters Bros. Recycling; Matt Miner and Kevin Johnston of the Town of Brookhaven; Richard Sander of Covanta Energy; and Steve Changaris of the National Waste & Recycling Association.
“We need a regional solution,” Sander said during the 90-minute discussion.
John Cameron, planning council chair, asked the panelists to lay out where things were headed.
Flower said the statistics show that each person produces about 4½ pounds of waste a day. With Long Island’s population of about 2.8 million, he said that was a considerable amount. He said 2,000 trucks a day transport waste off the Island.
White added about 6,000 rail cars carrying 600,000 tons of municipal solid waste are transported off the Island. He said more rail capacity was needed.
Many panelists and members of the audience called for innovative ways to handle waste and creating more markets for waste residue, such as turning ash into building materials and pulverizing recyclable glass to use in road materials like Germany is doing, one audience member noted, something the panelists agree should be done. Flower said “glass can and should be recycled,” but he said there needs to be a better way to do it, showing the audience pieces of recycling equipment he said was damaged by glass.
White said the planning council planned to form a subcommittee to take on the solid waste management challenges, and invited audience members to participate to help develop recommendations.
Romaine added: “Right now there’s only two ways of disposing it: Burn it or bury it … There has to be better ways for us to handle municipal solid waste … We got to get out of the regulatory mode and get into the innovator mode. If we don’t, all the regulations, all the laws, all the enforcement won’t mean squat. We are facing a very serious problem.”