Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Free Leaf Bags Now Available at Ace Hardware

This scene outside Ace Hardware at the Princeton Shopping Center will bring joy to anyone who values efficiency in government. Yesterday, Sept. 26, marked the beginning of a private/public partnership, in which Ace Hardware will take over the distribution of free leaf bags to Princeton residents. The town stands to save or redirect $21,000/year--my estimate of savings from 720 hours of public works staff time that can now be devoted to other tasks. In return for storing the bags and keeping track of how many leaf bags are given to whom, Ace Hardware gains additional foot traffic. Residents gain convenience as well, since the hardware store is open longer hours and on weekends.

Even better, the idea came not from a paid consultant, but from a resident (me), hatched in that fertile bed of creativity and insight known as Princeton. My research two years ago, working off of figures provided by town staff, showed that what seemed like a nice perk for residents--40 free leaf bags per year--was actually costing the town $2/bag, four times their cost at a local hardware store.

Now, the town's cost is more like 50 cents a bag, and that cost may be getting covered through grant funding. The town, by the way, decided to buy the bags itself, rather than give away bags with the Ace Hardware logo. The transition was a bit bumpy, as the town began directing residents to the hardware store before giving the store any leaf bags. But any new approach is likely to have a few glitches at first.

Another cost-saving idea in the works is to make rollcarts available to residents, particularly those who live along busy roads where they can't pile loose yardwaste at the curb. Though leaf bags would still be available, rollcarts of the 64 or 96 gallon size have the advantage of being weatherproof and reusable, with greater capacity and mobility. The aim is to begin a steady shift towards containerization of yardwaste, which is more efficient to collect and reduces nutrient pollution in local streams. More on this approach further down in the post from two years ago.

Many people limit their view of local government to how they individually are being served. Though understandable, that narrow view cheats people of the satisfaction of larger victories, in which we all gain. This small but significant shift in the free leaf bag program is an instance of the latter.

More info on Princeton's leaf collection at this link.


Joe Budelis said...

Steve - Kudos on a great idea to optimize Princeton government operations and on getting it implemented!

Stephen Hiltner said...

Definitely a good feeling to see a locally grown idea implemented. Not sure who in town government decided to move this forward, but am glad they did.