by Bushra Sarwar
I remember as a kid we used to run to the swings whenever recess started. On the swings, we would try to go higher and higher, try to beat our last record, try to beat each other. The higher you went, the worse the view got though. From beyond the line of pine trees, a mountain rose. But, Long Island doesn’t have any mountains. This mountain was man-made. We would dub it “Mount Garbage”. It was the landfill for the residents of the Town of Brookhaven. The previous year they had to shut down the side that faced the school, since the smell of the landfill from three miles away permeated the concrete walls of the elementary school. The landfill became a local landmark of sorts, it was famous among all the children at my elementary school. But, this landfill was just one of many that could not keep up with the waste of Long Islanders.
The average Long Islander produces 4 pounds of waste per day, on par with the national average. That equals to 1,460 pounds of waste per year, per person on Long Island. As of 2020, there are around 3,000,000 million people living on Long Island. The total garbage produced per year on Long Island is 4,380,000,000– around four billion pounds of garbage per year. The landfills on Long Island cannot keep up. There are six landfills located on Long Island, all within Suffolk County. But the behemoth landfill, “Mount Garbage”, the town of Brookhaven landfill, the largest on Long Island, is slated to be closed in 2024 when it reaches its maximum capacity. This landfill is an ash site on Long Island, the biggest one. Trash is burned into ash, which generates energy for the county. The ash is then deposited into the Brookhaven landfill. The landfill is also responsible for the most of the Island’s construction and demolition debris. And the landfill generates $52 million in revenue, of which over half is used to fund the town’s animal shelter and park department. With the closure of the landfills, town legislators estimate taxes may double for town residents. The closure of Long Island’s biggest landfill will create a waste crisis on Long Island since the other landfills cannot handle this amount of municipal waste.
In fact, the other landfills on Long Island do not handle much waste at all. While the Brookhaven landfill handles around 35 percent of Long Island’s waste, the rest does not actually go to other landfills on Long Island. The rest of the waste, around 65 percent of Long Island’s waste, is outsourced to landfills in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. It costs around $100 per ton to ship the waste, which comes out of the taxes of Long Islanders. 65 percent of Long Island’s waste comes out to 2.8 billion pounds, which is 1.4 million tons, multiplied by $100 a ton, the whopping total is around 1.4 billion dollars to outsource the waste on Long Island which will only increase with the looming closure of the Brookhaven landfill.
Is there a solution? Can we only prolong the inevitable: the outsourcing of all the waste on Long Island? Is the answer not creating more landfills, but recycling the waste we have? Is the issue the limited amount of space on Long Island and our high consumption? Whatever the solution, the issue is real. Long Island has a trash problem and something needs to be done about it. Or we all face living in contempt at the waste we created.
Bushra Sarwar is currently a sophomore at Stony Brook University studying Coastal Environmental Studies. She has been a lifelong resident of Long Island and is passionate about learning and preserving the ecosystem of Long Island. She is volunteering with the Ashley Schiff Preserve to learn and give voice to environmental issues on Long Island and to gain knowledge on local ecosystems.
Macgowan, C. (2015, June 23). Town prepares for shutdown of landfill. Newsday. Retrieved October 25, 2021, from https://www.newsday.com/business/brookhaven-officials-start-planning-for-town-landfill-shutdown-1.10566321.
The Suffolk County Regional Solid Waste Management Commission. (2006). Suffolk County Solid Waste Management Report and Recommendations. https://www.scnylegislature.us/DocumentCenter/View/12128/Suffolk-County-Solid-Waste-Management-Report-and-Recommendations-PDF
Sloan, Barry. A plow is used to move waste at the Brookhaven Town landfill. Newsday, https://www.newsday.com/business/brookhaven-officials-start-planning-for-town-landfill-shutdown-1.10566321.