Making Democracy Work: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

By Nancy Marr

With the upcoming closure of two of our Long Island landfills, we will need to work together to rethink how we handle waste.

New York State lawmakers, looking for ways to reduce the plastics sent to our landfills, have crafted Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) bills that require producers to reduce the amount of plastics they use and make them responsible for their eventual disposal, relieving municipalities of the cost. The EPR bills were not included in the New York State budget, but it is hoped the Legislature will pass an EPR bill before the summer.

The good news is that this week, a bill that would establish a state goal to “reduce, reuse, recycle, or compost at source no less than eighty-five percent of solid waste generated by 2032 was presented by New York State. Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, and was passed by the Assembly. We also anticipate strong support for the State Senate.

Think of all the sources of waste on Long Island: three million people in Nassau and Suffolk (each creating nearly five pounds of waste a day), thousands of businesses, dozens of municipalities, and all those people with levels of authority, interests and objectives. Not only does the untreated waste strewn across our planet pose a major threat to our health and environment, but it also represents an untapped source of usable raw material. In other words, we treat waste as garbage rather than a resource.

Current household waste collection and disposal systems operate within a linear economy, often categorized as “take, make, throw away”. In contrast, a circular economy uses reuse, repair and refurbishment, refurbishment and recycling to bring us back to a system that keeps products, materials, equipment and infrastructure working longer; and above all, produces less waste.

Fortunately, we have begun to implement new ways to use our resources, many of which are reminiscent of systems from the past. Repair Cafés, under the umbrella of Repair Café International, create facilities where consumers learn to repair their furniture and appliances. This month, a Repair Cafe will open in Greenport at 539 First Street from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on April 23; it will join 2,333 cafes that exist in eight countries. Learn more about this concept at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LctHCGe91gk.

There are also reuse facilities that repair, update, and sell items that have been discarded, bringing the concept of a thrift store closer to a stand-alone business that retains waste from the landfill. Producers are looking for more markets for items created through recycling, which would keep them out of landfills and make recycling programs more effective.

An Equitable Reparations Act (S149) was introduced last year and passed in the New York State Senate. This would recognize that consumers have the right to repair the devices they own or use independent repair shops, and would require equipment to be built to last rather than to be replaced or disposed of. Other states have passed many such bills, but it did not pass the NYS Assembly.

We must meet the targets of the Englebright Assembly Bill if we are to tackle climate change. We have the tools to move to a circular economy, which will reduce waste in landfills. EPR programs that have been designed reduce plastics in landfills and other waste repositories. But we need local municipalities and community organizations to educate consumers on what to do – what and where to recycle, where to bring the waste for others to use, how to compost and how to use the compost.

They will need support from the county government, agricultural bureau, local civic associations, community organizations, churches and local civic associations to provide training and encourage citizen participation.

Assemblyman Englebright’s bill passed by a large majority, suggesting there is broad public support for building a zero-waste economy. Each of us can let our county and state legislators know that we count on them to lead the way. To find your elected officials, go to https://my.lwv.org.

Nancy Marr is vice president of the League of Women Voters of Suffolk County, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes informed and active citizen participation in government and influences public policy through education and advocacy. For more information, visit www.lwv-suffolkcounty.org or call 631-862-6860.