Hurricane Sandy left behind an avalanche of debris along the Jersey Shore. Environmental groups are now urging New Jersey authorities to recycle as much as possible.

New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection doesn't have an exact number yet, but it's likely that millions of tons of debris will have to be processed.

"This is really just the beginning," said DEP spokesman Lawrence Hajna.

Clearing storm-battered wreckage is the first priority, Hajna says. The debris is going to more than 70 temporary disposal management areas, where it's then sorted and sent out.

"After all that work is done, then comes the process of demolishing houses that are not fit for habitation anymore," said Hajna. "So we're in the beginning of this process, and it's going to take a while."

Hajna says whatever can be recycled will be; disposable waste will head off to landfills or incinerators; and the remains of houses will be processed and reused — all to the "greatest extent possible."

"It will have a new life," Hajna said.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, hopes DEP takes that charge seriously. He says there's a definite risk of added environmental damage.

"Pesticides and paint cans, some construction stuff has asbestos and other things, chromium from old decking materials," Tittel said. "We want to take the hazards out of the waste stream, because [if not] we're going to end up turning our landfills into Superfund sites."

The DEP is overseeing waste disposal efforts, working to ensure that debris is dealt with in an environmentally responsible manner.

The department says things are going well so far, but it's also issuing warnings that illegal dumping and price gouging will be prosecuted.