Watch CBS News

Long Island recycling center back in business thanks to over $7 million investment

Recycling business making a comeback on Long Island
Recycling business making a comeback on Long Island 03:11

YAPHANK, N.Y. -- How much of our garbage actually gets recycled?

Four years after the worldwide recycling market crashed, you may be surprised to learn it's making a comeback.

CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff was invited inside Long Island's largest recycling processing center in Yaphank for a look at what's been the game-changer and what more can be done.

After a sudden halt four years ago when China stopped buying United States recyclables, Brookhaven town's recycling center closed up shop.

"Recycling was really on almost life support," said Winters Brothers senior vice president Will Flower.

But it's back, thanks in part to new technology, a more than $7 million investment from the waste management company Winters Brothers.

"We have gone from manually picking things by hand and just sorting them by size to using technology to sort our materials using infrared light," said Kenny Rothwell, recycling manager for Winters Brothers and the Brookhaven Materials Recycling Facility.

Optical sorters can separate different forms of plastic and papers from cardboard.

"Every different type of plastic and every type of paper has its own market," Rothwell said.

Magnetic sorting separates different kinds of metals, creating new domestic markets.

Plastics are made into new jugs, polyester and car parts. Cans become new cans. Cardboard becomes new boxes.

"We are able to turn it into a new product, and it might come right back to your house as a new bottle or clothing," Rothwell said.

"The markets have all come back. Recycling has been really strong, and that could change, it's a commodity," Flower said.

The company says 90 percent of what comes in now leaves as a recyclable material, but is this still a drop in the bucket?

"When you look at recycling rates across the country, New York and Long Island is really lacking. We can do a much better job, we need to do a lot better job because ... it's a real crisis," Flower said.

Each of us generates 5 pounds of trash every day.

Long Islanders recycle only 15 percent, less than half the national average of 33 percent. Is that enough?

"In one word no, we have not come far enough," said Assemblyman Steve Englebright.

The assemblyman says what's needed is a master plan. He's proposed shifting the expense of recycling from taxpayers to the companies that make and use packaging to create uniformity.

"So that only one type of plastic is in use and you can recycle it and make useful park benches and pilings and lumber, but right now, it's just a big mess," Englebright said.

Recyclers say consumers can also do a better job. Check local recycling rules, rinse out bottles and cans, and don't put them in plastic bags.

"You make a decision when you're going to throw something away -- is it recyclable or is it not? And if it is recyclable, take some time, clean that material ... and let us collect it and process it and reuse it again and again and again and again," Flower said.

"Keep recycling. It really does make a difference," Rothwell said.

There is an urgent need to reduce the amount of Long Island trash as it runs out of space. Its two remaining landfills have reached capacity and are slated to close.

The Brookhaven Materials Recycling Facility, as it's called, is on track to process more than 50 million pounds of material by the end of the year.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.