Saturday, January 28, 2012

Environmental Film Festival in progress

In case people don't already know, there are lots of great environmental documentaries over the next three weekends at the Princeton Public Library. Go to for a schedule.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Recycling Update

An announcement sent out by Princeton Township, apparently in reference to a column I had published in the Jan. 13 Princeton Packet, has caused considerable confusion. Over the course of a week, I made multiple attempts to reach township staff for a clarification, but heard nothing back. The announcement, sprinkled with capital letters to add emphasis, says that "Plastics marked #3-7 ARE NOT COLLECTED OR RECYCLED through the curbside recycling program." My research showed that these plastics are indeed collected and recycled. What the township announcement probably meant to say is that their official policy is to collect only plastics #1 and 2. Whether its leaf pickup or recycling, policy and realities on the streets of Princeton often part company.

The township announcement goes on to say, "While the facility accepts the materials, they are shipped overseas, which is not environmentally friendly." Experts I've spoken to question these assumptions. In fact, one told me that the availability of plastics 3-7 has prompted businesses to spring up in NJ to make use of them, whether to make plastic timbers or some other use. Even if the plastics are sent overseas, they likely ride in otherwise empty ships that were delivering products to the U.S., and whether they are used in an environmentally friendly way would be hard to determine.

The recycling business is very complex and constantly evolving. The truth, or some semblance thereof, takes a lot of digging, and it's all too easy to speak with an air of great authority and be completely wrong. Years back I was told with conviction by Princeton Township recycling staff that I must keep tearing those annoying cellophane windows out before recycling envelopes. This was contradicted by an expert I tracked down at the NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection. The misinformation remains on the township website to this day.

For years, most residents have been putting all manner of plastics in the curbside bin. I contacted the hauler to ask if they've ever complained to Mercer County (which administers Princeton's curbside recycling service) about the lack of adherence to the list, but got no response. I'm aware of no attempts to enforce the limitations imposed by the county list, which is hard to find both via google and via the county website. The township's concern about people placing plastics beyond #1 and 2 in the bin, then, is coming a bit late in the game.

So, for those who worry about doing the right thing, be happy. You don't have to tear those silly windows off of envelopes, and if you happen to accidentally drop a plastic #3-7 (or aluminum foil and trays, or an empty aerosol can) in the bin, like many of your oblivious neighbors are already doing, the good news is that it will get recycled. Maybe someday policy will catch up with practice.

Of course, the best thing to do is to somehow avoid buying unnecessary packaging, and thus minimize both one's garbage and one's recyclables.

Dinky Debate Updates

Press the "The Dinky Debate" tab at the top of the page to see a couple personal updates on the Dinky issue. I assembled information about the proposed move of the Dinky station on the premise that conflicting views might in part be due to misinformation or lack of information. Improve awareness, reduce acrimony. Though people are very busy and distracted, and may sustain misconceptions no matter what, I had two conversations recently in which worry about the proposed move of the station was based on misinformation about where the new station would be located.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Contrasting Recycling in Montgomery and Princeton

A recent newspaper article announced that Montgomery, Princeton's neighbor to the north, accepts plastics #1-5 and 7 curbside and also pizza boxes. Somerset County runs the recycling program for Montgomery and other municipalities and, unlike Mercer County, runs its own separation plant (a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF). They ask that homeowners take the plastic lids off of containers, but it's okay to put the lids in the bin.

Princeton contracts with Mercer County for curbside recycling service, which by contrast requests that residents recycle only plastics 1 and 2, and throw plastic lids and pizza boxes in the trash (apparently because the tops get caught in machinery and the grease on the boxes is thought of as a contaminant in paper recycling). This limitation to plastics 1 and 2 may have to do with their contract with Central Jersey Waste and Recycling, which hauls the curbside recyclables to a MRF. If you throw plastics 3-7 in the curbside bucket, it will probably get recycled, but Mercer County is only paying to have plastics 1 and 2 picked up. There's also a question as to whether plastics 3-7 are recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.

Hopefully, all this confusion will end when it comes time for Mercer County to sign a new contract with its hauler, which, given the area trend towards expanding recycling of plastics, could well include plastics 1-7.

Event Tuesday: Waste NOT in Schools, 4:30p

Establishing and maintaining effective recycling programs in schools is an extraordinary challenge, given the many pitfalls of low administrative priority, a distracted population, and under-motivated custodians. I certainly encountered these and other impediments in the process of helping Princeton Regional Schools revive its recycling programs. The high school was perhaps the hardest to make any progress with, though with great effort we were able to lift the school's recycling program, at least for awhile, above many others in the area (according to a truck operator who did pickups of recyclables at various businesses and schools.)A list of lessons learned from the effort, applicable to recycling in any building, can be found at

OASIS is making as much progress as anyone in overcoming entropy and apathy. Should be an excellent program. OASIS announcement below:

EVENT IS THIS TUESDAY 1/24 4:30pm  --Great speakers!

OASIS (Organizing Action on Sustainability in Schools) and the Princeton
Public Library

Waste NOT in Schools

Did you know that the average American creates 4.4 lbs of garbage every

What are schools doing to reduce waste, to teach students about waste, to
help us understand that we can't throw it away because there is no "away"?

Learn from some of New Jersey's experts at a panel discussion featuring:

Dr. Kevin Lyons, Rutgers University
Norm Torkelson, Hopewell Valley Regional Schools
Dr. Joy Barnes-Johnson, Princeton High School

Jan. 24 at 4:30 in the Princeton Public Library Community Room.

Refreshments graciously provided by The Bent Spoon.
A prize will be given to the school with the most participants.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Recycling at Jadwin Gym Still Looking For a Win

At Jadwin Gym last night, the Princeton women extended their winning streak to five, beating Cornell by a 2:1 margin.

The cheerleaders look very confident this year as they build themselves into high pyramids and come falling back to earth knowing someone will be there to catch them.
 The audience got an "A" for attendance.
Tigers in the pep band were kept well caged. The band was particularly notable for its unusual instrumentation, with bagpipes (not in  photo), cello and a bizarre brass instrument or two.

But what's this? Looks like someone has dropped the ball with the trash and recycling. Time and again, recycling containers were left unguarded by trash cans, insuring a mixing of trash and recyclables. And the nearly look-alike cans required close inspection to tell which goal was which.
Most of the players were out of position and lacked a winning attitude. Those in the lobby gave mixed signals of the "I know I say recycle but really I'm for trash" variety.
Fundamentals are SO important. Rule number one is pair each recycling bin with a trash can. I know that in basketball the opposing baskets are spread apart, but in the game of recycling, trash and recycling receptacles need to be TOGETHER.
And their best player, clearly labeled and with small holes on the top to discourage trash, was off to the side where no one would use it--a needless waste of talent. You've GOT to recruit more containers like this one and position them in key spots, like at the top of the stairs. People will be going for the hoop with their empty gatorade bottle at the first receptacle they encounter on the way out. By the time they reach the lobby, it's too late. Control the lanes. That's the way to win at recycling.
Here are some ideas for a winning strategy:
  • Step #1: paint over those green recycling triangles on the old, poorly designed receptacles. They just confuse people. 
  • Use all of those old containers for trash. Buy new recycling containers with attitude, that say recycling from head to foot. The star players, like the blue one in the photo above, are cheaper than the attractive but poorly designed laggards. 
  • Put your best players in key spots and, most importantly, pair them with trash cans. For a demonstration, and links to a manufacturer, click here.
  • Since the bottles accumulating in the clear plastic bag help show that the receptacle is meant for recyclables, don't empty the bags until they're nearly full (not after each game). 
  • Princeton University is an educational institution. When it invites the public to a basketball game (or a football game), it should be showing us how to win at recycling.
Note: Ten recommendations for starting and sustaining a successful recycling program in the workplace can be found here.

Note, 2.25.12: There's also a recycling container that looks like a bottle. The university has, or at least had, one of these at the football stadium. One supplier sells them for about $90 each. From the photos, it looks like companies like Coke and Pepsi might provide these at minimal or no cost, with their logo attached.

Friday, January 13, 2012

PU Art Museum Hosts Sustainability Games

The Princeton University Art Museum hung the community's clean laundry out to dry on the campus green last night as part of a "Sustainability Games" event. Given that an electric dryer uses 4000 watts when it's on, air-drying laundry is one of the best ways to reduce your home energy use, so there's considerable substance to go with the symbolism here.

The event, put on by students, was cleverly conceived. We "earned" pieces of pizza by first learning which of its ingredients can be grown locally, and then went on a sustainability scavenger hunt on campus that led us to a key on the steps of Nassau Hall. Take the key back to the museum and you got to open a chest full of free water bottles to take home. Free food, free bottle--my daughter was quite pleased. And she even learned some factoids, like that India is one of the world's leading producers of bananas.

The art museum invites the community in for special events every other Thursday evening, and will be collaborating with the Arts Council of Princeton, Labyrinth Bookstore and other local businesses for a second Art Walk on March 1. My jazz trio, the Sustainable Jazz Ensemble, will be performing at Labyrinth as part of that event, probably starting around 6pm.

Recycling in Princeton

The Princeton Packet published an "As I See It" column I wrote entitled The Struggle To Improve Recycling. For those seeking the lists of accepted curbside recyclables mentioned in the column, here's a link.

Note: Thanks to a reader for notifying me that one of the links here was wrong. It should work now.

Curbside Foodwaste Pickup in the Borough

One of the easier and more satisfying ways to reduce the amount of trash you put out for pickup is to compost food scraps, either by composting in the backyard or by participating in Princeton's curbside pickup program.

For backyard composting, this bucket costs about $20, prevents any odors in the kitchen, and is still like new after 15 years of service.

Backyard composting is the most ecological approach to dealing with foodscraps and yard trimmings, but the other option is the curbside program now available to all Princeton residents. Though pickup of kitchen scraps, often mixed with low-grade paper and garden trimmings, has been practiced in cities like San Francisco and Seattle, Princeton township is reportedly the first town in New Jersey to offer the service. The program has about 250 participants thus far.

This service has recently been extended to borough residents, who can participate for $10/month. Hopefully, consolidation will provide a means to greatly expand the number of people taking advantage of this service. Presumably, after consolidation there would not be an extra charge for the service. Full participation would bring a reduction of 30% in the trash Princeton generates.

Below is some QandA with the township recycling coordinator, Janet Pellichero:

Q: What is the cost for borough residents to participate?
A: It is $20.00 per month (editor's update: recently reduced to $10/month) for weekly collection of organics. Collected every Monday.

Q: Where is the foodwaste taken for composting?
A: It is taken to Peninsula Compost Group, in Wilmington Delaware. It is marketable compost in 80 days. (meat, fish, bones, pizza boxes, waxed cardboard, shellfish, oils etc. anything that grows goes)

Q: I've heard the program would have to be terminated if not enough households participate. How long is it guaranteed to continue?
A: It is a permanent program. (editor's update, 2.28.12: I now hear that the program has to reach 500 participants to remain viable)

Q: What is the best response to people who have worries about flies and odors?
A: There have been NO complaints regarding flies or odors.  The containers have a snap lock lid.

More info and contact info can be found here.