FAQ’s  — Frequently Asked Questions

I read in the New York Times’ Wirecutter section, a list of the “best” detergents.  Wouldn’t these work for Fire Island?

The Wirecutter recommendations are excellent in terms of cleaning your clothes while connected to a proper wastewater treatment plant, such as you would have in a city, but on Fire Island, where most of the effluent ends up in septic systems, we recommend detergents that not only clean well, but are also suitable for our delicate environment.  That’s why we recommend products that have been certified by the EPA under their “Safer Choice” program which are more suitable for our specific environment.


Another good website for to look for enviromentally safe products, that are suitable for Fire Island, can be found at the Enviromentaly Working Group’s (EWG) Verified site.


What about recycling?  Won’t that help?

Recycling is a big part of keeping Fire Island Green but so is reducing our actual footprint on the landscape.  Fire Island is a small fragile barrier beach with limited facilities to process all the pollutants they create. For example, most of the dyes and sudsing agents in our shampoos and body soaps drain directly into the sandy soil and without proper treatment, can leech out directly into the groundwater and then the ocean and bay.  Use less of these products while here on Fire Island.

The bottle that my detergent comes in says that it’s made from “over 80% post-consumer plastic” and made with electricity from renewable sources. Isn’t that good?

Yes, of course, that is good, but it’s not the only thing to consider.  Much more needs to go into making a product truly safe for the environment than just the container in which it came in.  What is the actual chemical formulation of the product?  Is it biodegradable?  Does it contain bleaches and other harsh ingredients?  In many cases, products that don’t explicitly state that they are made from natural ingredients and are FULLY biodegradable misrepresent their intention by labeling their products with other green-sounding claims without fully disclosing the products’ potential harms.  Beware of firms that “green-wash” their image with innocuous-sounding claims that are hollow

Fire Island, for the most part, is only a seasonal vacation spot, so is this really a problem?

While it is true that Fire Island is not very populated for many months of the year, (according to the 2010 census, there is a permanent population of 292 year-round residents) once the “summer season” starts the population of the island can swell 40 fold with over 100,000 visitors over a busy summer weekend.  Additionally, what was once an island of small beach bungalows has grown to include larger houses with multiple bedrooms and bathrooms making the Island a very popular summer destination.  This extra load on our island can take a heavy load on our environment so, yes,  a watchful eye is needed to keep our communities clean and pristine.  Unwanted high nitrogen loads in the Great South Bay have had an impact on shellfish and seagrass in the bay.

Can we use a garbage disposal system at Fire Island?

While America has fallen in love with, under-sink-installed, garbage disposal systems, our infrastructure of mostly individual septic systems does not lend itself well to these units.  With limited pump-out operators on the island, septic systems can become clogged and filled beyond their capacity for our island.  It’s best to not put any extra material in our systems and get out of the habit of thinking of the toilet as a garbage can.

Ocean Beach has a wastewater treatment plant, so why would have to follow these guidelines?

While it’s true that Ocean Beach runs a village wastewater treatment plant in good operating condition, that was updated in the 1970s and, it is still a smaller facility that needs to be treated with care to continue operating efficiently.  This means that pouring the wrong things down the drain has negative effects on the entire operating system and there are certain items (prescription drugs for example) that never are fully treated in any treatment plant that just don’t belong in the system.  Make sure to bring back unused or expired prescription drugs back to one of the many the pharmacies that have a drugs disposal kiosk.