Keeping the Hamptons Green: One Bag at a Time

We all pride ourselves on the beauty of the <strong>East End</strong>. It’s why we’re all here, isn’t it? The beaches, the farms, the air, the inexplicable, sought-after light that bathes them all? As we mosey down our streets and stretches of sand, the beauty sometimes catches us by surprise; we lose our breath, pausing for a moment to take in the stunning scene that has inspired artists for decades, and we devote not a single thought to the less picturesque side of the East End, the less picturesque side of life in general: garbage.

So, let’s talk recycling. We push it from our minds, we hide it from our eyes, yet it remains, silently bulging at the margins of society to which we have confined it. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so foreboding if we handle the messes that we create, but it seems that we conveniently ignore the ugly, un-Hamptons parts of life—a tragic human flaw—even as they threaten the beauty that we cherish. Maybe that it threatens our unblemished vacation lives is both why it must be discussed and why it is ignored.

Thankfully, the <strong>East End</strong> has a free cure for that.

<strong>Southampton Town</strong> neatly packages waste in little Green Bags on the hillside, little Green Bags made of ticky-tacky—and they all look just the same. Literally. The Town requires residents to dispose of all unrecyclable waste in plastic “Green Bags” labeled, “Town of Southampton,” which can be purchased at various retailers throughout the Town—that is, if residents do not already use a commercial carter or prefer to self-haul their trash to the recycling center. All other materials must be self-sorted and placed in the proper receptacles at the recycling center.

People who don’t recycle religiously—myself included—assume that recycling is a complicated, confusing, time-consuming business. What goes where, what’s a number two plastic?, my iced coffee cup counts as a plastic, right?…We shouldn’t need an Environmental Science degree to throw stuff away “properly.” Good thing we don’t. Southampton and East Hampton Recycling Centers offer brief, useful guides on their websites for what can, can’t and should be recycled, and where. Here’s a summary:

Household batteries can be lumped in with your other household waste, no recycling necessary, unless you are looking to dispose of your car, hearing aid, watch or computer battery. In that case, they should be brought to retailers who sell batteries, like Best Buy or Home Depot. Household light bulbs can also be brought to Lowe’s or Home Depot for disposal, although I suggest calling ahead to make sure your store will accept them. The Riverhead Home Depot, for example, offers a box for light bulb recycling right as you enter their door. If you don’t feel like trekking to Riverhead to get rid of your hazardous waste (light bulbs qualify because they contain mercury), Southampton Town has a program called STOP that has a few—limited—dates of hazardous waste collection. Items like pool chemicals, oil-based paint, household cleaners, car fluids, and stains qualify as hazardous and should be stored until the predetermined STOP dates.

For less dangerous waste, like bottle plastics and newspaper and cans, the recycling is fairly self-explanatory, although each recycling center has its own idiosyncrasies. For example, if you’re looking to remove brush from your property, Sag Harbor and Westhampton won’t accept it. Hampton Bays accepts larger bulk and construction items, but no concrete or asphalt.

A few interesting points that I’ve learned from reading the handy online recycling guides: Styrofoam can be put in household waste since it is difficult to recycle (I no longer feel solely responsible for mountains of Styrofoam cups sitting atop landfills without decay), bottle caps are not recyclable and recycling really isn’t that hard. A few extra seconds placing your Diet Coke can in a bin separate from your newspapers seem like a small price to pay for keeping the East End clean, healthy, and beautiful.
And, for the record, no, your iced coffee cup (grade #5 plastic) cannot be recycled with other (#1 and #2 grade) plastics.

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