Last year, when officials in Islip, L.I., realized the town landfill was filling up, they banned commercial trash to save space for household refuse.
That simple decision threw the nation's deepening garbage crisis into sharp relief. The barge that Islip hired to carry away its commercial garbage traveled 6,000 miles, rejected in port after port.
Finally, 187 days - and a host of late-night comedy routines - later, 3,186 tons of the nation's most spurned trash was burned in Brooklyn and its ashes were sent home for burial. It was a lesson for Islip, learned the hard way. A year later, officials at the New York State Environmental Protection Agency say Islip has become a model for other communities seeking to transform their waste disposal systems.
"There's no single easy answer for garbage," said Thomas C. Jorling, New York's Environmental Commissioner. "Islip has shown us that an integrated program, which involves recycling, incineration and land burial, is the logical approach to the problem."
Under a mandatory recycling program started last summer, the town gave all residents beige and green trash cans so they could separate out glass, metals and paper from their household trash.
Eric Kopp, a town official, said peer pressure works: It is easy to tell if your neighbors are separating trash for recycling.
So far, the program has tripled the amount of recycled goods to 30,000 tons a year, saving Islip roughly $2 million a year and extending the life of the landfill.
Another recycling program - an experimental effort to collect leaves and yard waste and send it to a compost facility - was begun last month.
And Islip is building a $55 million resource recovery plant, scheduled to open in March, which it said will generate enough electricity to service 10,000 homes a year, said Micheal J. Cahill, president of the Islip Resource Recovery Agency.