Just to get you in the mood, here is a mind-opening, entertaining, two minute video that captures the spirit, portraying the roll cart in heroic terms, complete with marching band. Come on, Princeton! If Enid, Oklahoma can switch to roll carts for yard waste, we can do it, too. I called Enid, and was told that the video is an accurate portrayal of the roll carts' popularity among residents.
Current use of roll carts in Princeton
Roll carts of varying sizes are used in towns and cities across the country to hold trash, recyclables and yardwaste, and are becoming increasingly common in Princeton. Most residents in the former township used them prior to consolidation because each resident had to contract with a private hauler for trash collection, and private services find roll carts to be the most convenient and cost-effective container. Downtown merchants roll their big, 95 gallon roll carts full of recyclables out to the curb on Nassau Street each week. Food waste is collected in small, green 35 gallon roll carts. And less durable versions of roll carts are increasingly dominating the selection for homeowners at the local hardware stores.
The increasing size of roll carts available at the hardware store also increases the potential for back injury among trash collectors expected to lift them. And that's where the hydraulic hook, called a "tipper", comes into play, particularly when considering using large roll carts for containerizing yardwaste year-round. The hydraulic hooks that mechanically empty the contents into the truck are mounted on the back, and operated with a lever by the crew member. Those hooks work only with the sturdier carts purchased directly by municipalities or private haulers (see photo at bottom of post).
- How could a roll cart possibly hold all of my leaves? In the fall, it can't, which is why I'm suggesting continuing the fall loose leaf pickup. Optimally, we'd shift to mulch mowing, leaf corrals, and blowing/raking leaves into wooded areas on larger lots, but that would require a paradigm shift in many people's thinking. The other ten months of the year, however, nearly all piles of yardwaste put out on the street could instead be neatly containerized in a roll cart and put out on the curb only on the weekly pickup day. Even in the fall, roll carts will be useful for containerizing leaves that fall gradually from trees, with a new pickup each week. Leaves are mostly fluff, so a lot can be packed into a cart. Roll carts will greatly reduce the amount of loose leaves put out on the street, and may help shift people towards seeking ways to use leaves in their yards, where they can provide great benefit to the soil, plants and wildlife.
- Where to stow the roll carts? Some towns offer residents different sizes of roll carts--35, 65, or 95 gallon. Even though the largest size holds the equivalent of three yardwaste bags, it isn't that big. It can be stowed in the garage, or around the side of the house, or behind a shrub. People can stick with yardwaste bags if they want, but once they find out how much more convenient carts are than yardwaste bags, they will suddenly find they have room for them after all.
- Won't they be too heavy for crews to empty into the truck? Princeton's existing trucks can be retrofitted with a rear load "tipper"--essentially a small hydraulic hook that will lift the cart up and dump its contents into the truck in one quick motion. My phone calls to multiple suppliers suggest a cost of about $5000 per hook. Here's the shortest video I could find, running thirty seconds, demonstrating the "tipper". In fact, it's the yardwaste bags that pose a hazard to crews, since wet leaves can make yardwaste bags very heavy, and they must be dragged to the curb by the resident, then lifted by the crew without hydraulic assist.
- What if I can't get all of my yardwaste into the cart? Yardwaste bags can still be used for extra leaves/yardwaste. Or, you can stow some yardwaste in a temporary pile behind some shrubs until the next week, or make a small corral for extra leaves in some out of the way spot in the yard. The consistency of weekly pickups will provide homeowners with certainty, so they can adjust their yardwork to best take advantage of the service.
- Won't the carts be too expensive? There are two routes to go. One involves buying a fancy truck that requires only one crew member, and automatically grabs and empties the cart. These are expensive, and would seem to be impractical in the former borough, with its parked cars blocking a truck's access to the curb. And these automated trucks would preclude any use of yardwaste bags. The other approach involves a $5000 retrofit for existing trucks, and about $420,000 to buy the carts for 7000 households (at $50 each). The town could provide the carts for free, or share the cost with those households who want the service. Even if the town distributes carts for free, this one time investment would pay for itself in a year or two. Residents could purchase extra carts at cost if desired.
- Roll carts are plastic. Don't we want to avoid buying additional plastic? Our containers for trash and recycling are also plastic. Some roll carts are made of recycled plastic. A large roll cart filled and emptied fifty times per year avoids the consumption of 150 single use yardwaste bags. That's a lot of paper saved over the lifetime of a roll cart.
- How about brush? Residents would be given 2-3 free special pickups of brush each year. Small sticks/branches that occasionally fall in the yard could be cut to size and put in the roll cart for the next weekly pickup.
Some municipalities using roll carts for yardwaste include San Francisco, Portland, OR, Seattle, Ann Arbor, MI, and of course Enid, Oklahoma (Don't tell me you didn't watch their awesome video!).
Potential future steps to increase savings even more:
Integrating foodwaste and yardwaste collection
In all the cities/towns mentioned above except Enid, they've taken the extra step of allowing foodwaste to be added to the yardwaste cart. In Ann Arbor, this mixture is composted in windrows outside of town just like normal yardwaste. This potential future step for Princeton, which would mean big savings in landfill tipping fees, is only possible if we start using roll carts for yardwaste.
Possible future shift to completely containerized pickup
There have been some calls to end looseleaf collection altogether, even in the fall. I think the perception of leaves as something to purge from the yard is too widespread and deeply engrained for Princeton to adopt such a policy. A case can also be made that the planting of trees along public right of ways obligates the municipality to provide some collection service to deal with the resulting leaves. For those interested in ending loose leaf pickup in the future, however, it's interesting how weekly collection of containerized yardwaste in rollcarts (+ yardwaste bags if desired) has made such a policy shift possible in Ann Arbor, MI, providing increased safety, predictability and fairness, as explained on their website.
Montgomery, just to the north, offers no curbside pickup--neither containerized nor loose--of leaves/yardwaste. Whether that means homeowners keep leaves on their property, or have landscape services haul them away is not clear. Some of those leaves are reportedly brought to Princeton by landscape firms to dump on our streets.