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  • Roger Witherspoon

Location is the Rule for Household Waste

By Roger Witherspoon

The Journal News (Westerchester County, NY)

September 16, 2004 Thursday

Hazard disposal limited by jumble of local regulations

The Journal News

Brian Summers had a mess in his Katonah home and did not know what to do with


A massive power surge June 20 had destroyed his new wide-screen television, along

with his computer, printer, microwave oven, VCR and surge protector.

"Smoke just started pouring out of them," he recalled, and he dragged the wrecked

items to his back yard.

Summers, 59, a freelance editor, was one of more than 400 residents who suffered

damage to electronic equipment because of a malfunctioning New York State Electric

and Gas Corp. transformer near the Katonah train station.

But Summers' wrecked equipment didn't stay in his back yard for long.

While driving through Southeast with a friend a few days later, he noticed "there

were appliances out on the street all over town. So we went home, got mine and

trucked them out there and left them.

"It was really just luck that they were having a cleanup, and I hope they don't get

mad at me now. But I didn't know where else to put the things."

Summers isn't alone in not knowing what to do.

Rules for residents on how to dispose of old televisions, refrigerators, paints,

pesticides and other household liquid and solid wastes vary with each municipality

and county.

Southeast has bulk pickups of household items on designated streets between April 7

and Oct. 20.

If Summers had been visiting the village of Brewster, he would have missed its

sidewalk bulk pickup, which was held in April and won't be repeated until Sept. 22.

"The biggest problem with recycling is the lack of standardization," said Gordon

Maxwell, executive director of Putnam County's recycling program. "Every county in

the state and every state in the country does things differently. There should be

standardization so if you go from New York to Arizona, comprehensive waste

management is all the same."

New York state assists counties in reducing household hazardous waste by providing

grants to cover up to 50 percent of the cost of running countywide pickups of

hazardous household waste.

On these occasions, residents can bring a wide variety of wastes - from liquid

chemicals and pesticides to computer monitors - to a central point.

The counties then sort the material and have it removed by professional haulers and

recycling firms.

Modern electronic waste contains heavy metals - such as lead in the screens and

benzene in the plastic - that break down in landfills and can contaminate


Westchester County offers quarterly cleanup days, with the next one scheduled for

Saturday at the County Recycling Center off the New York State Thruway in Yonkers.

Putnam County has the event twice annually, with its fall cleanup scheduled for Oct.

16 at Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Putnam Valley.

If Summers lived in Rockland County, he could have dropped off his electronic

equipment at the Solid Waste Management Authority's recycling facility in Pomona,

adjacent to the fire training center. Rockland is one of the few counties in the state

with a permanent household hazardous waste facility.

The site is open weekdays and selected weekends.

Ron Delo, the authority's executive director, said the facility is open during the week,

and "we accept anything you have that has a plug coming out of it."

Computer equipment, like other household goods brought to the site, is periodically

forwarded to a private recycling company. "They demanufacture them," Delo said,

"and recover the various components."

If Summers lived in Ramapo, however, he wouldn't even have to make the trek to

the county recycling facility. In Ramapo, Delo said, "they leave their computer

equipment in the trash, and the town brings it to the Solid Waste Authority."

Westchester County has a "treasure hunt" on its Web site for unwanted household

furniture and electronics. Here, residents can post their usable castoffs, and people

who want the item can contact them and make arrangements to take it away.

"No money changes hands," said Jim Hogan, director of the county's recycling office.

"This is just a way of keeping these items out of the trash."

Hogan added, however, that the county-run swap site wouldn't have helped

Summers because items listed in the county's treasure chest must be in working


For each type of modern household waste, there are different services provided by

municipal governments. In most communities, appliances containing the chilling gas

freon, used in air conditioners and refrigerators, is not picked up as bulk metal until

the gas has been removed. That is usually the responsibility of the homeowner, who

would have to contract with a licensed private firm.

But in New Rochelle, Cortlandt and Yonkers, getting rid of refrigerators is a service

provided to the homeowners, though New Rochelle charges a fee of $20.

"When New Rochelle has several of these appliances," Hogan said, "they call in an

extractor who gives them a discounted price to remove the freon. Yonkers went so

far as to have its staff certified, and they remove the freon.

"Getting rid of a refrigerator can be easy or hard, depending on where you live. We

have 43 municipalities, and they're all different. Some leave you on your own, and

some don't."

Reach Roger Witherspoon at or 914-696-8566.

Recycling dangerous waste

Residents may bring waste items for free disposal during Westchester County's next

Household Chemical Clean-up Day on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the

Westchester County Recycling Center in Yonkers, located off Exit 6A of the New York

State Thruway. Preregistration is required at 914-813-5425 to dispose of more than

60 pounds of solid material or 25 gallons of liquid.


* Electronic goods, i.e. computer screens and televisions

* Mercury thermometers

* Most auto fluids, i.e. antifreeze, brake fluid and gasoline

* Fire-starting fluids, i.e. kerosene, butane and charcoal lighter fluid

* Car tires (limit 10)

* Metal, furniture and jewelry polish or wax

* Wood preservatives

* Pesticides, herbicides, insecticides

* Photographic and swimming pool chemicals

* Paint thinners, turpentine and solvents

* Fluorescent lights

* Fire extinguishers and 1- or 2-pound propane gas tanks


* Paint: Dry cans may be placed in regular garbage or put curbside on bulk collection


* Car batteries: Return to battery retailers.

* Motor oil: Return to service station.

* Smoke and fire detectors: May be thrown in the garbage or recycled with


* Compressed-gas cylinders, 20-pound propane, helium and oxygen tanks. Must be

removed by a private company that may charge a fee.

* Freon appliances, such as air conditioners and refrigerators. These are removed

locally as bulk metal after the freon has been removed. Yonkers and Cortlandt will

collect residents' appliances containing freon.

Web site:

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