The clock is ticking for Long Island to reduce and manage its solid waste. The Brookhaven landfill is reaching capacity, packaging waste is increasing, and recycling rates are lackluster.
The good news is that a coalition of environmental leaders, local government advocates, and elected officials have joined together to back legislation called the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act introduced by State Sen. Pete Harckham of Westchester County.
This bill is urgently needed. New York is experiencing a solid waste crisis with skyrocketing costs to municipalities, abysmal recycling rates, and plastic pollution littering our communities and waterways. Our state generates more than 17 million tons of municipal solid waste annually. Long Island is responsible for 1.6 million tons per year of which 205,000 tons go to landfills off Long Island and 1.4 million tons are sent to waste-to-energy facilities, resulting in 400,000 tons of ash that must be landfilled. There is currently no plan to manage this ash once the Brookhaven landfill is closed. The one wise choice everyone agrees on is to reduce our waste stream. This bill does just that.
The financial burden of managing New York’s recyclable waste rests on local governments and taxpayers. Municipalities, already working with tight budgets, are struggling with recycling costs and outdated infrastructure which significantly limits materials that are recycled. Modernizing recycling infrastructure results in increased taxes. It is estimated local governments statewide need to spend up to $230 million annually to keep local recycling programs going.
Harckham’s bill would revolutionize New York’s approach to solid waste by shifting the cost of properly recycling product packaging and paper (like plastic containers, steel cans, glass bottles, junk mail, and cardboard) to corporations — not taxpayers and local governments. Those that put packaging into the stream of commerce are best positioned to reduce the amount of packaging that’s created in the first place.
The measure would require large corporations to reduce consumer packaging by 50% in 12 years, increase post-consumer recycled content in packaging, and invest in new reuse/refill infrastructure. The bill includes strong oversight and enforcement provisions to ensure that corporations comply.
We are pleased to see a similar proposal in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget, but Harckham’s bill also would ban some of the most toxic substances in packaging — including lead, mercury, and the “forever chemicals” known as PFAS — and set up a process to add more toxic substances to the list in the future.
Maine, Colorado, Oregon, and California recently passed similar bills, while the policy has been in effect in parts of Europe and Canada for decades. Where fully implemented, recycling rates exceed 70% (compared to less than 20% in New York) and the cost of consumer goods has not increased.
It is time corporations take out their own trash. Each year, companies ship billions of products with excess packaging, exacerbating the solid waste crisis, yet bear no responsibility for managing the waste they create. This sensible legislation promises to save money for municipalities and taxpayers, remove toxic substances from packaging, increase recycling, and require producers to reduce waste.
We need to modernize New York’s recycling system and make producers take responsibility for managing their packaging waste. Now we need the Assembly to weigh in and support this program. Long Island Assembly members should spring into action. Given the important budget implications of this policy, and the essential oversight of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, it is critical that the legislation is adopted in the final 2023-24 state budget.
This guest essay reflects the views of Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
Support Lumiserver & Cynesys on Tipeee
Visit our sponsors
Wise (formerly TransferWise) is the cheaper, easier way to send money abroad. It helps people move money quickly and easily between bank accounts in different countries. Convert 60+ currencies with ridiculously low fees - on average 7x cheaper than a bank. No hidden fees, no markup on the exchange rate, ever.
Now you can get a free first transfer up to 500£ with your ESNcard. You can access this offer here.