Friday, August 23, 2019

Another Summer of Messy Streets and Ordinance Violations Begging for a Solution

We have a little dog named Leo, and though he didn't seem very interested in the solar eclipse two years ago, he does take an enduring interest in walking the streets of Princeton,

which gives me as longtime designated dogwalker the opportunity to update my ongoing report on the state of streets in our fair town.

Frequently, not just in the fall but almost year-round, the streets are lined with piles large and small of yardwaste, detracting from whatever beauty residential neighborhoods might have.

The state of New Jersey long ago made clear a preference for containerized yardwaste. Page 71 of New Jersey's "Model Ordinances" recommendations for municipalities states (emphasis added):
The owner or occupant of any property, or any employee or contractor of such owner or occupant engaged to provide lawn care or landscaping services, shall not sweep, rake, blow or otherwise place yard waste, unless the yard waste is containerized, in the street. If yard waste that is not containerized is placed in the street, the party responsible for placement of yard waste must remove the yard waste from the street or said party shall be deemed in violation of this ordinance.
This makes it sound like Princeton's program of loose yardwaste collection is completely out of step with state guidelines, but then the state provides a bit of latitude. Under Section III: Yardwaste Collection, the state's recommended town ordinance reads:
Sweeping, raking, blowing or otherwise placing yard waste that is not containerized at the curb or along the street is only allowed during the seven (7) days prior to a scheduled and announced collection, and shall not be placed closer than 10 feet from any storm drain inlet. Placement of such yard waste at the curb or along the street at any other time or in any other manner is a violation of this ordinance. 
Given the state's clear preference for keeping streets free of yardwaste, and an ordinance that limits the time any yardwaste can sit on the street to one week, what is Princeton's collection schedule? Regard below the complex schedule for yardwaste pickups that Princetonians are supposed to scrutinize and time their gardening with. Note that there's a 3-6 week gap between pickups in the summer. That means that residents have no way to legally dispose of yardwaste for many weeks. What happens is that residents throw yardwaste in the streets anyway, in violation of state and local law.

Further complicating disposal and collection, residents are asked not to mix leaves and brush at the curb. Brush is used to make woodchip mulch. A good mulch lasts a long time, but if leaves are mixed in with the wood, the ground up mulch breaks down too fast.

What is a resident supposed to do with non-woody yardwaste (called "leaves" in the schedule) from May through September, when no pickups are scheduled? Below is a collection of photos that provide an answer, taken along a two-block stretch of Linden Lane and Ewing Street. Essentially, the streets become a storage area for leaves and other herbaceous materials from the garden, mixed in with a few sticks.

The infrequent collections mean that state and local laws are regularly being violated, and the yardwaste that finally gets collected is likely contaminating the brush composting process at the Lawrenceville composting center. The town's collection program seems out of sync with resident's gardening habits, and makes it very hard to adhere to state and local law. Princeton is not the only New Jersey town that struggles with this problem, which has only increased over the years.

How many residents along a two block stretch currently lack a good way to legally dispose of yardwaste during the summer? Here's a count:

2nd pile








10th (Piling leaves/brush loose on the lawn kills the grass)







This appears to be mostly brush, but lots of leaves mixed in.

17th - piled too close to the stormdrain. Containerization would avoid this violation of ordinance.


19th -- This one includes a flower bouquet.


21st -- another violation that could be avoided by containerization



24th -- a mix of wood and herbaceous yardwaste.

25th -- containerization of non-woody yardwaste ("leaves") would avoid not only the clogging of the stormdrain but also the unsightly scar in the grass where a pile of yardwaste had sat too long.

One of the piles above later got grass clippings added to it. The town forbids putting grass clippings out for collection, because their high nutrient content could pollute local waterways, but some homeowners do it anyway.

And the fall's first pile of leaves in the street, blocking half the lane, in mid-August. These are probably leaves from a sycamore. Some species of trees, susceptible to this or that disease, tend to drop some leaves in the summer. The town's schedule doesn't have these leaves being picked up until October.

In the past, I've suggested that the town make large compost carts available to residents so that they can containerize much of their yardwaste and put it out on the curb for one of the weekly pickups. Nearly all of the piles shown above would easily fit into a large compost cart, so that they could be stored by the resident out of sight, rather than marring the streetscape for weeks.

These compost carts, widely and effectively used elsewhere in the country, have in Princeton been uncharitably described as either too small to hold sufficient yardwaste to make a difference, or too large for residents to store on their property. Why, when they are widely used elsewhere, would they somehow be both too large and too small for Princetonians?

In the meantime, our streets remain messy much of the year, with numerous violations of state and local ordinances. For gardeners who don't want to have a compost pile or leaf corral, there needs to be a convenient way to store and legally dispose of yardwaste.

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