Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Leaves--Small Victories

This homeowner used to pile leaves out on a busy street. Now she has her landscapers put them in metal corrals and, when the corrals are full, piles the rest loose in the woods. By doing this, she enriches her soil, does her part to reduce flooding in the local streams by making her soil more absorbent, and leaves (no pun intended) the street and sidewalk open for their intended uses.

Last year, this street leading to Little Brook Elementary was choked with piles of leaves. This year, I was able to convince the homeowners to have their landscaper instead pile the leaves in a back corner of their lot. Bicyclists and cars now have enough room to navigate on the street during busy dropoff and pickup times.

STREET LEAVES--A Mess to Address

It's roundup time here, way out in western NJ. Urban cowboys strap on their leafblowers and set to drivin' all the wayward foliage streetward.

Eventually, the township will rustle up all these leaves with big convoys and haul 'em off to the big leafyard outside of town, where they'll be civilized into compost. Nice compost, but what a production.

Even folks who live in the woods feel the autumn urge to push leaves out onto the country road.

What's going on here? Do we secretly wish to see all roads revert to soil?

Streets are not the safest place to put leaves. These skidmarks suggest a truck slid on wet leaves into Snowden Lane.

This photo was taken just after a mother retrieved a boy from a leafpile that, naturally enough, he really wanted to play in. Leaves are such a delight for kids. To pile them in the street turns a joy into a hazard.
(Update, 2011: This homeowner has become an enthusiastic composter of leaves, helped along by the free leaf corrals the township made available last fall.)

Here, the landscaper carefully kept the leaves out of the street, piling them instead on the sidewalk. They've been sitting there for more than a week, killing the narrow strip of grass and inconveniencing pedestrians.

A Step Backwards for Residential Water Meters

NJ American Water installed a new water meter at our house over the past year. Unfortunately, the new meter only measures in 1000 gallon increments, which renders it pretty useless for helping us track whether any water conservation measures are actually working. It's hard enough to track energy and water use in a house, and the new water meter design just made it a little harder.

Faulty Utility Bills

If your PSE&G gas/electric bills have had some mistakes on them lately (one of mine tried to bill me for the last three months, even though I'd already paid for two of those), it may be because they are still working out the kinks in a new computer systems for billing.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Leaves and Flooding

Ever notice how heavy wet leaves can be? They're heavy, of course, because water is heavy, and the leaves can absorb a lot of water. Now, look at the mountains of leaves that people place on the street this time of year. Are these not essentially giant sponges that we are asking the city to haul away? And what happens when a heavy rain falls upon land that has been deprived, year after year, of these large helpings of spongy material? The water, with nothing to absorb it, flows into streams, increasing downstream flooding.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Princeton Recycling Goes Single Stream

Princeton's curbside recycling costs are going to drop in the near future, due to a small but significant change coming in 2010. Up to now, we've been required to put cans and bottles in the yellow container, and mixed paper in the green container. This is known as "dual stream".

Starting in January, 2010, however, Princeton will kick off the new decade by going single stream. This means that only one truck will come by, and combine all the bottles, cans, paper and cardboard in one load. Residents can continue to sort recyclables between the two containers, or combine it all together.

The county, which runs Princeton's curbside recycling pickups, says the single stream approach will reduce the township's annual recycling cost from $183,000 down to $129,000, a savings of $54,000. I don't have figures for the borough as yet. Last year, the borough says it was billed $67,000 for curbside recycling pickup, so the new bill should be less than that.

Another advantage of the new approach will be that only one truck need lumber by your house on recycling day. Single stream recycling has been made possible by more sophisticated separating equipment at the recycling plant.

Waste Management, which serves the public schools and many businesses, went single stream at least a year ago.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Illegal Street Leaves--Whose (As)Fault Is This?

A typical scene in Princeton this time of year--a car swerving to avoid a pile of leaves. This one's on Snowden. Nice clean lawn, leaf-clogged street. Most of the dumping is done by out-of-town landscape crews who are unaware of or openly indifferent towards the township leaf ordinance.

These leaves were dumped in the street ten days before it was legal to do so. Within a couple days, other neighbors had put their leaves out, too, since it's easier to copy one's neighbor than check the township website.

The township, responding to a state mandate, passed an ordinance that strictly limits when leaves can be placed in the street, and how much of the street they can block. But township staff are so busy scrambling to pick up the illegally dumped leaves that they have no time to enforce the ordinance. Fear of rousing anger from highly taxed residents also suppresses enforcement. In a brief survey, I counted twenty violations on just two long blocks of Magnolia and Clover.

Most of the residents in this neighborhood of large yards could easily find a weedy corner for a pile of leaves that would, as it settles back into the ground, recycle nutrients, absorb rainfall, and suppress the weeds underneath. Instead, the leaves are blown into the street, where they become a public hazard and burden.

Below is a partial description of the ordinance, quoted from the township website.

"Residents should have their loose (un-bagged) leaves placed on the paved roadway not more than 7 days prior to the date of collection and must be out for collection before 7:00 a.m. on the Monday morning of the scheduled week. After your section has been collected you are prohibited from putting any yard material on the Township Right of Way until your next scheduled collection. (The Township Right of Way is the paved area and the area ten (10) feet behind the edge of pavement or curb line.)"