Wednesday, August 13, 2014

It's Only Spilled Glass on a Sidewalk

There's a story in this picture. Two pet peeves converged, and the result was broken glass for pedestrians to tread through on their way to and from the Princeton Shopping Center. And the municipal response? Not so great.

Pet Peeve #1: Television put out for the trash. State law bans televisions from the landfill, therefor, putting them on the curb with your trash puts the garbage collectors in the position of breaking the law. What to do with them? Here's a previous post on the subject. You can also check out the town website's "What to do with.." info sheet here. Hopefully it's up to date. TVs have lots of lead and other toxics that should be recycled rather than placed in a landfill where the toxics could leach into groundwater.

Pet Peeve #2: These folks put two long fluorescent light bulbs out with their trash. Some people put fluorescents out with the recyclables, which is just as bad if not worse. The fluorescent light bulbs have traces of mercury in them, which are released when the bulb breaks as it's being compacted by the garbage truck, with the trash collector standing close by. The trash collectors, who are already sacrificing their backs and their sense of smell, should not have to breathe mercury as well. What to do with the burnt out bulbs? Well, the options aren't great. Three county recycling days a year, or give Home Depot a call to ask if they still take them.

So, what happened when the neighbors put out both a TV and the light bulbs at the same time? The clues are a broken fluorescent bulb and a TV taken apart. What happened here is that a scavenger driving by stopped, opened up the TV case and took the copper coil of wires to sell as scrap for a few dollars. During the struggle with the TV, he must have accidentally broken a light bulb, leaving us pedestrians--kids, the elderly, the handicapped guy with an electric cart--with broken glass and traces of mercury to dodge for X number of days. Jolly.

I called the police. Law breaking had led to vandalism. What can they do? The first call yielded nothing. A second call the next day prompted an officer to stop by. He was nice enough, and spent some time on the issue, but seemed less than concerned, and was unaware that putting TVs out on the curb is illegal. I had to email him the link to the Princeton Health Department's April memo on the subject. He said it's the neighbor's responsibility to clean the sidewalk, but if no one is home when he knocks, there's nothing to be done. He kicked some glass aside. There is now less glass on the sidewalk, and one officer is somewhat better informed about the environmental laws they are being paid to enforce.

Can we call this progress? There is essentially no communication with residents (or with police for that matter) to inform them of the law, and then no communication after residents break it. The glass, the law, the system--all are broken.

-- This post provided by the Princeton Peeve Society


Sandrine said...

Thanks a lot for caring, and for providing useful information!
I moved here a few months ago from Europe, and I've been wondering what to do with my empty alkaline batteries... The "What to do with..." page advises to just dispose of these with the regular household trash. That answers my question then, unfortunately.
But I can't resolve myself to do this. So far the other solution I came across (apart from bringing the used batteries back to Europe with me when I'm traveling) is this
I was wondering if there's anything else you would be aware of that would be more local?

Stephen Hiltner said...

It's interesting that Europe recycles alkaline batteries, but we don't. I wonder what the economics of it are. They used to hereabouts, but not in recent years. I'm skeptical of products like the one in your link--a box for $20, to be filled with old batteries and sent to Waste Management postage paid, but I've been impressed with Waste Management in general. I'm surprised that the county recycling days for electronics and toxics don't include batteries.

In case it's of interest, here's an old post with links to videos of recyclables sorting plants, one being where our recyclables go, and the other a Waste Management site in Philadelphia.

Pat Palmer said...

The TV pictured above was removed from the curb after I telephoned the landlord. That was months ago. This week, I found the TV (still in the same box) on the other side of the house, where the tenants had simply "dumped" it, open to the environment. This time, I phoned the Princeton health officer. The landlord informs me that the tenants have been evicted (at great effort, apparently) but they have not yet actually moved out. Sigh. The old, broken TV is still there, outside, and the health officer did not (yet) return my call.