Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s Administration has committed to finding every possible avenue to enhance the County’s environmental efforts. One area where the results are exceeding all expectations is the County’s efforts on recycling, led by the Department of Environmental Facilities (DEF). Over the past 20 years, the amount of residential solid waste disposed in Refuse Disposal District No. 1 has decreased by 21 percent. After peaking at 495,659 tons in 2003, the amount of residential trash was reduced to 390,243 tons in 2021, a reduction of 105,416 tons. Over this same period, Westchester’s population grew by about 6.8 percent, adding more than 64,000 additional residents. During that time span, the County consistently posted an annual recycling rate of at least 50 percent, far outpacing the national average of 32 percent.
Latimer said: “While people are moving into Westchester, the amount of waste produced is dropping. That is a testament to both the hardworking employees of the County’s DEF, led by Commissioner Vincent Kopicki, Deputy Commissioner Lou Vetrone and Assistant Commissioner Melissa Rotini, and to the over one million residents of Westchester County who understand the importance of reducing waste.”
The environmental programs in place in Westchester County and managed by DEF, include: recycling education, recycling enforcement, electronic waste recycling, educational tours of the County’s Material Recovery Facility (MRF), recycling of municipally-collected yard waste under the Organic Yard Waste Program, boat wrap recycling, operation of the Household-Material Recovery Facility for hazardous and hard-to-dispose wastes, Mobile Shredder services, the Residential Food Scrap Transportation and Disposal Program (RFSTAD) and the County’s first small-scale composting facility and education center, CompostED. These and other programs administered by DEF, all contribute to increasing recycling and reducing waste.
DEF Commissioner Vincent Kopicki said: “The work put forth by our Department, under the leadership of County Executive Latimer, shows what can be possible when innovative ideas are combined with real-world hard work to better the community we all call home.” DEF also investigates opportunities to establish recycling programs for categories of materials that are not typically processed at a MRF. Some programs, such as electronic waste recycling, divert millions of pounds of material from the waste stream each year. Other programs, such as boat wrap recycling, are targeted for the diversion of materials that make up a much smaller percentage of the waste stream, but that would otherwise end up in the trash. In recent years, the Department has prioritized the recycling of food scraps, which make up about 21 percent of the District’s residential waste stream.
Recently DEF has introduced two additional recycling programs that do not cost the County anything to administer: textile recovery and paint recycling. According to the EPA, textiles make up 5.8 percent of the total waste generated. In 2021, DEF expanded textile recycling at the MRF to include footwear, accessories (belts, handbags, scarfs, hats and gloves), sheets, towels and blankets.
Additionally, the Product Stewardship Institute reports that about 80 million gallons of paint go unused in the U.S. annually. Earlier this year DEF was able to designate the H-MRF in Valhalla as one of the first PaintCare locations in the state, providing a paint recycling option for residents. Additionally, DEF has worked to connect local municipalities to the PaintCare Program to make paint recycling convenient for all residents.
While the environmental benefits of waste reduction and recycling are well known, these programs also make good sense economically. In 2021, 74,456 tons of curbside recyclables collected by municipalities within the RDD were delivered to the Daniel P. Thomas Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Revenue from the sale of these recyclables totaled $7,006,704.59, an increase of over 95 percent from 2020. Latimer concluded: “These efforts make sense both environmentally and economically – making it a true win-win for Westchester County both now and for generations to come.”