Monday, March 26, 2012

Celestial Triangle of Venus, the moon, and Jupiter

A beautiful sight in the sky in early evening tonight, with Venus right next to the crescent moon in the west after sunset, with Jupiter some distance below.

Recycling #5 Plastics, Corks, Brita Filters

A friend told me some weeks ago that Whole Foods accepts some items for recycling. I called Whole Foods out on Route 1, took careful notes and then promptly misplaced them. The woman mentioned yogurt containers and other #5 plastics, and corks from wine bottles. She also said that Brita filters are #5 and can be returned there.

This past Saturday, there was an article in the NY Times about companies taking responsibility for recycling the packaging that comes with their products. It provided good context for that phone call to the local Whole Foods, and had information about
"Finally, in 2008, the company struck a deal to put collection bins in Whole Foods stores, and the effort took off. Customers can take any No. 5 container to Whole Foods stores — margarine tubs, other brands’ yogurt containers — where they are collected, taken to a plant for processing, and then turned into toothbrushes and razors by Preserve."
For Brita filter info, click here.
Click here and scroll down for a pictorial list of items made of #5 plastic.

As mentioned in previous posts, everything I've been able to learn about our curbside recyclables suggests that Princeton's hauler and recycling facility accept and market #5 and other plastics, but Mercer County is resisting adding plastics 3-7 to its official list of accepted curbside recyclables. In the meantime, the Whole Foods/PreserveProducts option at least provides more certainty about where the recyclables will end up.

Another option is to make yogurt at home, which I've heard is quite easy to do.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Ceremonial Welcome

 An air of expectancy filled the space surrounding township hall yesterday morning as I passed by. A grand entryway had been improvised on Valley Road, and mayors, people in uniform and citizens gathered in front of the fire station,
while a bagpiper played in the courtyard. Something was up, something was coming, and it turned out to be a piece of steel from the World Trade Center. Where the section of beam will be displayed was not clear.

I didn't stay to witness the arrival, but thought the magnolia blossoms mixing with stones offered a fitting tribute to go along with the town's welcome.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Journey of the Recyclables--Mercer County's Electronics Day

The semi-annual journey to the Mercer County electronics recycling event on March 10 went even more smoothly than usual, thanks to some luck of the Irish.

There was no line to wait in, apparently due to a St. Patrick's Day parade in Hamilton that had drawn many wouldbe recyclers away. I was tempted to head over to the parade with my green pickup and join in, my payload of vintage electronics serving as a makeshift float. All I would have needed was someone to sit on top of the computer monitors and wave proudly to the crowds. Few people know that St. Patrick was one of the great recyclers of his day. Of course, in the pre-industrial age, just about everyone was a great recycler without thinking twice about it.

With a combination of contributions from friends and curbside rescues, our contribution to the county's haul for the day added up to

Five computer monitors
Four televisions
Three lazer printers
Two printer/scanners
One toaster oven
And a harddrive in a pear tree.

I forget where they said the electronics are taken for recycling, but it sounded like somewhere in NJ.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Shuttered Observatory--FitzRandolph in Princeton

A post about vines, an unused Princeton observatory, stainless steel tigers, geese, and uncertain futures in general, at another website of mine,

Friday, March 16, 2012

Winter Gives Way To Yardwaste Season

Southern Michigan, where I used to live, was said to have two seasons: winter and road construction. It was a gloomy assessment, but sometimes seemed all too accurate.

Thankfully, Princeton lacks the interminably grey winters of southern Michigan, and is bikeable enough that road construction is less often an obstruction. But for those who walk borough streets, it feels more and more like the town's two seasons are winter and yardwaste. Winter lasts roughly from January through February, during which one can enjoy clean streets if it doesn't snow. With March comes the first modest dumpings at the curb,

which continue through the summer and into fall, climaxing with the blitz of leaves that threaten to obscure the pavement altogether.

I try to imagine that this tradition reflects a dogged effort to do away with pavement and turn Princeton into one large greenspace, but the reality is that a whole bunch of soft, rainwater-absorbing material is being exported, making Princeton's yards less absorptive of rainwater, and more apt to amplify flooding.

It's not that hard for most homeowners to make a little spot in a back corner, screened by some shrubs if desired, where leaves and even some brush can be tossed. Take advantage of nature's onsite recycling services, and make a spot this year where a little dk is ok.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Free Compost for Princetonians

Another of Princeton government's stealth services is free compost for residents. Word of mouth has worked pretty well on this one, but it hasn't always been easy to find info online, in part because the name of the composting center is the Lawrenceville Ecological Center or, even more correctly than that the Joseph H. Maher, Jr. Ecological Center.

There are two kinds of compost: composted leaves and thrice-ground woodchips. It's free if you shovel your own, otherwise something like $8/yd3 if they load it in your truck. They take checks, no cash. Drive out Mercer St past the Princeton Battlefield. It turns into Princeton Pike. If you reach I-95, you've gone too far. Address is 3701 Princeton Pike. This link provides more info.  

I used to go out there, but now I just find an arborist taking a tree down in the neighborhood, ask if they want to dump their woodchips in my driveway, and usually end up with a free load of chips. That way, I save myself, and the arborist, a trip out of town, and the chips last much longer as mulch than the already pretty decomposed product they give away at the compost center.

Note: A few caveats with the raw woodchips. They aren't as pretty as the dark, composted mulch, they may borrow some nitrogen from the soil during decomposition, and they may even host an "artillery fungus" that shoots tiny black blobs at your house. But it's still highly convenient and long-lasting stuff to use away from the house, in informal areas. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


One of Princeton’s beloved and longest running assets is the towpath that borders the DandR Canal. Third among New Jersey’s most popular state parks, the canal and its path are long-running in both space and time. Until recently, an ambitious bicyclist could ride the trail 25 miles towards the Atlantic, or 35 miles over and up the Delaware, avoiding car culture altogether.

As long as I’ve been in town, the towpath has been covered with a sturdy, dependable, well-drained surface of crushed stone, firm enough for pushing a stroller or riding a bike, but easy on joggers.

All that changed last August when the floods from tropical storm Irene washed out some sections of the trail and deposited a thick layer of silt on the rest.

Now, almost seven months later, little has been done to restore the trail. Though portions are passable when dry, it quickly becomes a quagmire after a rain. The DandR Canal State Park website is replete with photos of destruction, including damage to bridges and historic buildings. I called to inquire about prospects for repair, and was told that there are plans to restore and improve the crushed stone surface now buried under silt, but all depends on the eventual arrival of money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Repairing even the less damaged sections may cost $10,000 per mile. Meanwhile, the park’s personnel, reportedly reduced to a third of 1980s staffing levels, struggle to find funding for basics like office paper.

There’s a problem here. Storms are getting stronger. Government is getting weaker. And though some may see this as just another natural disaster to deal with, natural disasters aren’t as natural as they used to be. Increasingly, the climate is gaining a human imprint as much as the land, and these two massive, collectively wrought influences--the paving of landscapes and the warming of the atmosphere--merge to powerful effect along our river corridors.

Warmed atmosphere spawns more powerful storms. Meanwhile, we harden the landscape with roads, buildings and not-very-absorbent lawns, all of which convey that rainfall more quickly and destructively into the rivers.

Who’s to blame? No one and everyone. There is safety and peril in numbers. Certainly there’s a long history of inadequate public policy, and changes to policy that could still help, but what intrigues me is the role of the individual in contributing to, and potentially steering us incrementally away from, a dangerous course.

In Princeton, where the hardscape of roads and buildings is largely a given at this point, our main contribution to saving a shared asset like the towpath comes down to individual homeowners’ decisions. The aim is to stop feeding nature’s fury, and to make more absorbent those portions of the landscape we have control over. As owners of cars and other assorted climate-changing machinery, we can find ways to use them less. It’s possible to make a yard more absorbent, by replacing lawns with more deep-rooted plantings, catching runoff in raingardens, and using fall’s harvest of leaves as mulch to absorb water and soften the earth. I’m a bit less sanguine about the role of rainbarrels, though they could help if they were five times larger, on many downspouts, and happened to be empty when the big rains hit.

Even if the towpath is eventually repaired, the chance of future damage continues to increase with changing climate. The towpath may prove a harbinger of things to come--a steady erosion of shared assets if we take no action to protect them. The solution, like the problem, will be a collective endeavor, through what we make of government and the actions we take as individuals far from the towpath itself.

In human interactions, we don’t expect our individual acts of kindness to change the world, and yet we do them anyway. It’s time to view an individual’s impacts on land, river and air in a similar light, and extend acts of kindness to the long shared path, from the comfort of our own homesteads.

This post first appeared March 9 at

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Southern Comfort--Passing Pleasure, Long Hangover

New Jersey is in its thirteenth warmer than normal month in a row. Averaged over the past three decades, March's high temperatures for Princeton would typically go from 46 at the beginning of the month to 56 at the end. By contrast, the 10-day forecast for the middle of the month this year is for days in the 60s and 70s--ten to twenty degrees above normal.

NJ state climatologist David Robinson posts periodic updates on weather trends. February was about 5 degrees above the average for the past thirty years, and was the fifth warmest February since records began being kept back in 1895.

I'm taking advantage of the warm weather, but also know that this southern comfort could bring with it a very long and beastly hangover come summer, and an even longer, perhaps permanent hangover if we can't find less climate-changing ways to live.

Whale of a Kale Sale

Ask Abigail to let the people know
There's a whale of a kale sale at the Whole Earth Center, so

Buy it all the month by pound or pail,
By and by your health it will avail,

In scrumptious soups from Alice Waters,
With onions, garlic and pataters.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Repairs Long Time Coming For Towpath

For those concerned about the condition of the DR Canal towpath since the Irene flooding last August, I've posted an update on prospects for repair at There's also an upcoming talk by Watershed director Jim Waltman on the Lessons from Hurricane Irene this coming Wednesday, March 14. More info at