Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Some Environmental Events

Today, 4:30pm at Guyot Hall on campus, "That's Not Funny! A panel on environmental comedy. A subject near to my heart. Jenny Price, visiting professor at the Princeton Environmental Institute, has organized this event.

April 24, Great Ideas Breakfast, "Stories of Waste and Hope", Princeton Public Library,  8:30 am: Find out where your curbside recyclables go, and where your food waste might go in Trenton for composting in the future. Other speakers as well, and food.

May 17 SOLAR JAM at Princeton High School, a collaborative venture and contest organized by O.A.S.I.S. (Organizing Action for Sustainability In Schools) and PSE&G. Registration deadline was April 15, but you might be able to plead your case, and blame me for not getting word out sooner. With a solar car race and solar-related exhibits, it should be a great event. See more info below:

Solar Jam Overview
This event has two main elements. The first is a solar-powered car race,
in which students use vehicles they have built. The second is an
‘open’ solar science fair, for which students can display any project
that uses solar energy – such as solar ovens, sundials, reconfigured
electronics, etc. There will be food available from local vendors, but we
are aiming for a “Zero Waste” event, so participants and spectators
will have to bring their own beverage containers.

For more on the event, and lots of links about building solar vehicles, click on "read more".

LEDs Dip Below $10

Not many years back, these compact fluorescents (CFLs), now $5 for 4, were just dipping below $10 each.

Now, LEDs have dipped below $10. These have an interesting flat design, and their neck is narrow enough to fit into sockets on some light fixtures where only incandescents would fit in the past. This particular sale is at Home Depot, hopefully ongoing.

The packaging said they last 22.8 years, and that despite their flat appearance they broadcast light evenly in all directions. If we trust the predicted lifespan, the lightbulb could outlast the lamp its screwed into. LEDs also have the advantage of being dimmable and instant on. The CFLs take a minute to reach full brightness.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smooth Asphalt = Deep Sleep

After winter's heavy dose of freeze/thaw and road salt took its toll on the roads, it's out with the old and in with the new. The proliferation of potholes on our busy town street had one small benefit: pulling out of the driveway became easier, as drivers intimidated by a particularly dense clustering of potholes at Harrison and Hamilton slowed enough to create a nice gap in the traffic. Even a Humvee, which you'd think had been bought in part to dominate such rough terrain, was seen slowing to a crawl.

When the new asphalt was laid down, I knew my neighbor would be sleeping better. Even before this winter, he was frequently being awakened by the noise of trucks hitting the potholes in front of his house.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Clean Water and Recycling--The Connection

There's a stream cleanup along the canal this Saturday, April 5, from 1-3pm, meeting at Turning Basin Park off Alexander Street. The cleanup is organized by the Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association. It makes for a good family outing.

Though picking up trash doesn't necessarily improve water quality (discarded oil cans and batteries being exceptions), it does improve appearance and reduces the amount of plastic that becomes problematic as it breaks down and gets inadvertently consumed by wildlife.

Most of the littering is likely accidental, as trashcans spill or bottles fall out of the small, uncovered green and yellow recycling buckets Princeton residents have used for many years. Many communities use rollout bins that have greater capacity and lids that reduce the risk of recyclables spilling during the collection process.

Whoever originally bought this shamrock-like bow had no idea it would later be poised to slip down into the stormwater system and join all the other plastic down along the canal, on its way down the Millstone River, then out to the ocean to make life a little more dangerous for aquatic life.

Two other posts about the connection between recycling and water quality can be found at this link.

Books for the Dumping

Princeton High School is "giving" away lots of books.

Better hurry.

(At least they're in the recycling dumpster.)

Note: The HS media folks say the books were recycled due to being moldy and therefore unhealthy for further use.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Model Policies for Cleaner Streets

This post is a companion to the previous post, which showed 20 violations of Princeton's yardwaste policy along three blocks--not an especially unusual number in my neighborhood. If anything, the situation with ongoing violations and perpetually dirty streets has worsened over the years.

Princeton allows you to dump loose leaves and brush on the street, but supposedly no more than one week before scheduled pickup. Princetonians ignore the second part of that sentence, partly because the schedule is very complicated, and partly because the rules are not enforced.

This is an extremely convenient service for homeowners and landscape companies, who can and do dump leaves and brush on the street any day of the year, but the resulting mess, street hazard, and the high cost in man-hours, equipment and fuel for collection and composting are a considerable price to pay.

Princeton also picks up bags of yardwaste, on a different schedule. Here are some that were getting blown around in recent winds.

A popular alternative in other towns is to not allow any loose dumping of leaves in the streets. People either grind the leaves up with their lawn mowers, compost them in piles in the backyard, or put them out for pickup using a 96 gallon rollout bin augmented with yardwaste bags as needed. The rollout bin is easier to fill and maneuver around the yard than yardwaste bags, and pickup days are on a specific day every week. No complicated schedules.

I researched the cost of the hydraulic hook that needs to be fitted on the truck to lift and empty the rollout bin. It costs $5000 to retrofit a truck with a hook, and the mechanical lift reduces the sort of heavy lifting that can injure workers.

This resident in Durham, NC, really didn't want to compost leaves in the backyard for some reason, so went to the trouble of bagging them all up. Only ten bags will be taken each week. For most people during most weeks of the year, the rollout bins are enough.

The rollout bins have an added advantage of being useful not only for leaves/yardwaste but also for kitchen scraps. Ann Arbor, MI, long in the forefront of recycling (I helped with a pilot program back in the late 1970's there) has an excellent website that combines policy with education, and details the kind of program that could work very well in Princeton. They offer residents very reasonably priced rollout bins in various sizes.

Whereas Princeton's foodwaste pickup requires trucking the scraps 70 miles south to Wilmington for composting, Ann Arbor composts a combination of yardwaste and food scraps just outside of town, at a location no more remote than the Lawrenceville Ecological Center where Princeton's yardwaste is taken.

In these programs, there are various ways for residents to pay for the optional service of yardwaste pickup. Here's some language from Durham, NC's program. Residents pay a small charge, while residents who opt out pay nothing. 
"Yard waste collection is an optional fee-based program. For a $60 fee, residents are enrolled into the yard waste program from July 1 to June 30. The service fee does not include the cart rental fee. If a cart is at your residence and you apply for service you will be charged an $18 leasing fee." 
Currently in Princeton, everyone has to pay the $1million+ pricetag for leaf and brush pickup whether we make use of it or not.

For brush pickup, bundling is a common requirement, and Ann Arbor organizes neighborhoods to assist elderly neighbors with their yard cleanup.

The result is a good service, municipal savings, and clean streets.

Princeton's Yardwaste Policy Widely Ignored, Uninforced

Sometimes it's necessary to go over the top, or over the curb, to make a point. Princeton's Guidelines for Brush, Log, Loose and Bagged Leaf Collection are largely ignored, and have been for years. Along three blocks during a dog walk, the street was littered with violations of the town's rules. Being in Section 5, no brush is supposed to be in these streets until April 7--a week before the scheduled pickup--and no leaves until April 21. But neither professional landscape crews doing spring cleaning nor neighbors had a clue. I counted more than 20 violations, and though it seems a bit much to photograph them all, there really needs to be documentation of the disconnect between policy and reality.

The timing of all of these piles violate guidelines, and often their size and placement as well. The photos are matched with the quotes from the guidelines that they conflict with.

"Branches must be cut no more than 3 feet in length". (These were more than ten feet long)

"Please do NOT place within ten feet of a storm drain..." (Hmmm)

According to the schedule, these piles will sit on the street for a month.

"Logs must be...a maximum of six inches in diameter." (more like ten inches)

"Loose leaves are to be placed in piles...NOT MORE THAN THREE FEET WIDE EXTENDING FROM THE CURB." (The CAPS in quotes are the town's. It's common to see leaf piles extend 6 feet or more out from the curb, like these, which according to the schedule will remain here for four weeks until the next pickup.)

A little glob for the giant claw to pick up.



Brush and leaves are to be "placed IN SEPARATE PILES..." (Here, brush and leaves are mixed, another common sight. I doubt it makes much difference, but the town says it's important.)






etc. Again, all of these were put out with complete disregard for the stated pickup schedule.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Passion Divide Brings Democrats Together (in the same room)

Princeton Democrats converged on the Unitarian Universalist Church en masse Sunday night to vote for which two of the three candidates for town council would get endorsement and favorable placement on the ballot.

By the time I arrived, having tromped across rain-soaked ground in search of the entrance, there wasn't much of a view.

A big screen offered a more impressionistic effect.

The heavy rain of letters in the local papers and internet sites, supporting Sue Nemeth or Jo Butler, with Bernie Miller seeming a shoe-in, had been falling for weeks. Sometimes the local politics make me feel like I'm in a family where my beloved siblings have begun arguing heatedly and I can do nothing to stop it. I know and respect people on both sides of this passion divide. Though I haven't followed council meetings, I did work at various times with both Sue and Jo on commissions, and found them both to have capability, depth of knowledge, passion, and good judgement.

Though at first reluctant to reveal the tally, the leadership finally divulged that Miller received 216 votes, Nemeth received 197 votes, and Butler received 165 votes.

All three will be on the June primary ballot, in that order.

The process indoors appeared peaceful. Anyone looking for dramatic head to head conflict would have encountered it not at the meeting, but instead afterwards in what looked like a very serious collision down the block, at 206 and Cherry Hill Road. While close attention was being paid to Princeton politics, someone in the driver's seat wasn't looking where they were going.