Recycling rates have dropped significantly in the past ten to fifteen years, not only in Princeton but throughout New Jersey. Nearly every county is out of compliance with state mandates to recycle.
The state recently passed the New Jersey Recycling Enhancement Act, which will raise money to support local recycling initiatives by adding a landfill fee for garbage generated in the state. Municipalities will see more money for recycling over the next year.
Sounds like a great idea, but I see the problem as having much to do with a lack of feedback at all levels of the recycling process. At the residential level, homeowners who chronically include non-recyclables in their recycling bin are not given any note telling them what they've done wrong. Though the county recently mailed a very informative photo showing what's recyclable and what is not, it's obvious that many homeowners don't look at it.
At the municipal level, Princeton borough and township recycling coordinators collect data each year on the quantities of various items being recycled in town, and send this raw data off to Mercer County. In return, the borough and township each receive annual grants of about $8000 from the state to support the coordinator positions. There appears not to be, however, any annual report generated from that data by the borough and township that would give a clear indication of trends and where to focus energy to improve participation. Without this sort of feedback loop, residents and their representatives run the risk of being unaware there is any problem.
In other words, residents receive no feedback on their recycling, and city officials apparently receive no feedback on their town's recycling. It's no surprise, then, that the town is not meeting state goals for recycling, and that the master plan for Princeton includes only boiler plate language with no indication that recycling needs to be improved.