Monday, April 09, 2012

The Great Recyclables Escape

It was a wild and crazy day for recycling in Princeton, as high winds caused cans, paper and plastic to burst out of their tipsy confinement and head cross-town on unintended journeys. I was riding my bike down Chestnut Street when a yellow bin a block down spilled its contents on the street, sending a colorful, sparkly party of aluminum cans rolling uphill in my direction. Was this a messy sort of welcome? Or had the Swiss Family Robinson just unleashed a passel of anti-gravity logs to deter my invasion of the neighborhood?

Meanwhile, on Spruce Street, some papers and plastic had their escape cut short by some shrubbery,
while others congregated strategically at stormdrains that could take them down Harry's Brook to Carnegie Lake and onward to the Atlantic. "Sargasso Sea, here we come!", they rejoiced, daring any hound to track their scent down the waterways of New Jersey. They'd heard rumors about the downcycling that would be their destiny if taken away by the recycling truck, and weren't looking back.
The great escape revealed the flaws in Princeton's aging but seemingly immortal fleet of green and yellow recycling buckets, which, being cyclindrical, tend to roll out into the street,
or onto the sidewalk.
Their open tops and small size encourage overfilling, which plays right into the wind's complicity.

Somewhere, over the recycling rainbow, there exist large containers with wheels on the bottom and hinged lids on top. If other municipalities can have them, why oh why can't we?

On a more serious note: The alternative approach, seen in other municipalities, and also the more recent method of choice for private trash haulers in the township, is to have large rollout bins that the homeowner rolls to the curb and the worker rolls to the truck. The bin fits on a hook on the back of the truck that mechanically lifts and empties the bin. This saves the worker's back, and the lids help keep the contents safe from rain and wind. 

More sophisticated and expensive systems have only one worker per truck, and the truck has an arm that reaches out and plucks the rollout bin from the curb, empties it and places it back on the curb.

If I were to argue for maintaining the status quo, I'd say that new bins would be costly and their construction consumes more resources. I'd wonder if the old bins could be effectively recycled. As heavy recyclables like newspapers and glass bottles become less common, back problems for workers may be easing. The current system may also employ more workers.

All of this would need to be explored, with an open mind. Even if the town wished to make a change, the county has the final decision, and only when the current contract with a hauler expires. 

In the meantime, the wind will have its occasional field day, and before the municipality can slap the culprit with 10,000 counts of littering, it will have vanished into thin air.


Anonymous said...

The last I knew, you could take broken cans for replacement (or get additional recycle cans) at the firehouse on Harrison St near Nassau. You can also pay them $2 per lid for recycling lids. We have 4 decent bins and 4 lids which we weight down with a brick each (they would blow off in wind, otherwise) and so our bins are well-behaved in high wind. None of our neighbors seem to know about the replacements and lids, however, and their recycling blows all over the neighborhood. You can also just get extra bins if yours are overflowing. My neighbors all seem to need extra bins! (Steve, this is Pat, your neighbor).

Adam said...

I would love to have those larger bins with the hinged lids. Our street is awful with litter after recycling day even when it isn't windy. Unfortunately, I'm not sure if those larger systems where the truck lifts the can are feasible on the smaller streets, especially the one-ways and places with street parking.

Steve Hiltner said...

I just called the county recycling (better known as the Mercer County Improvement Authority, 278-8086), and they said residents can get free replacements for the yellow and green buckets by calling the municipality. The borough/township would know if lids are still available. The county said they no longer have them. Ace Hardware did, though, last time I checked.

Steve Hiltner said...

The trucks with a small lever mounted on the back for lifting the bins could navigate the streets as well as the current ones. Not sure if the more automated trucks, with mechanical arms that pluck the bins from the curb, could maneuver well enough around parked cars, etc., though they seem to manage in San Francisco.