Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 44
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
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Environmental Commission Passes Resolution for Standardized, Eco-Friendly Leaf Collection

Dilshanie Perera

The Princeton Environmental Commission (PEC) unanimously passed a resolution recommending that both municipalities “change their ordinances in a consistent way to require leaves and possibly brush to be placed in compostable bags or some other standardized container in order to be picked up.”

Managing leaves was the central topic of debate at last week’s meeting during which members of the PEC and Township’s Public Works Department discussed challenges and future strategies for leaf collection.

Owing to the spate of recent flooding accompanying the heavy rains this summer and autumn, concerns about stormwater have come to the fore.

Alleviating flooding is intimately connected to effective leaf management, since stray leaves can block storm drains, and retaining leaves on one’s property by mulching or composting them can increase stormwater absorption and reduce the need for added fertilizers, according to the PEC resolution.

Township Engineer Bob Kiser told Commission members, “We have the same goals regarding leaves,” explaining that they would like to expend less energy in leaf disposal, encourage greener processes like composting and bagging, and be in compliance with the State’s stormwater regulations.

Currently, the Township has a voluntary bagging program where residents can pick up 20 free biodegradable bags at the Public Works Department (intersection of Valley Road and Witherspoon Street) from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. So far this season, Recycling Coordinator Janet Pellichero reported that 330 residents have picked up bags.

The Township also picks up loose leaves twice per season. Residents are instructed to place them on the paved roadway in the area extending three feet from the curb not more than seven days prior to the pickup date, which varies depending on the section.

Princeton Borough residents are instructed not to use leaf bags, but to pile leaves at the curb for pick up no more than seven days before the scheduled date.

Once the leaves in the Borough and Township are collected, they go to a shared composting facility in Lawrence Township, which is jointly run, managed, and funded by the three municipalities. Residents are allowed to pick up free compost and woodchips from that site, and registered landscapers may purchase them, with the money going into a fund to run the facility, Mr. Kiser said.

Superintendent of Public Works Don Hansen suggested that “the way to go is 100 percent bags, since it saves on equipment, labor, et cetera.” The public works staff could then tackle other maintenance issues, he said, affirming that if all leaves were already in compostable bags, leaf collection would take much less time.

Although enforcement is sporadic because of limited staff, whenever residents do not abide by the leaf collection schedule or ordinance, Ms. Pellichero said they are presented with a warning giving them seven days to rectify the situation. She cited landscapers as intermittent violators of the ordinance despite the fact that all landscaping companies have to be registered, and all employees are notified of the rules.

Environmental Commission member Pam Machold remarked that “necessity is the mother of invention. Flooding brought this issue to a lot of people who weren’t aware of it. It’s about education and ordinances.”

Large roll-out bins were proposed by PEC member Steve Hiltner as a potential way for leaves to be kept out of the street and brought out to the curb on schedule, as with recycling. He characterized the current leaf collection systems in both municipalities as “cumbersome and expensive.”

Though the cheapest and least energy intensive process would involve residents composting or mulching their leaves in their own yards, spurring that shift would require a greater effort to inform the public. “Clearly, education is the most important part,” said PEC Chair Wendy Kaczerski.

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