July 10, 2013

AvalonBay Should Embrace the Future By Including a Composting Program


To the Editor:

AvalonBay should have a composting program in its proposed development — a win-win situation for everyone.

With composting, AvalonBay would pay $65/ton to haul organic food waste to a processing site — not $125/ton for the same waste to fill already overflowing landfills (where the waste creates methane gas, a known agent of climate change). Within the near future they would make an easy profit. There are many disposal companies, including Central Jersey Waste, that compete for contracts for food waste.

AvalonBay’s tenants (~560) would be allowed to participate in an important program that benefits the whole community and our environment.

Princeton (and Sustainable Princeton) would gain a partner in our programs for sustainability.

This is the wave of the future. The Princeton Environmental Commission’s report urges the Planning Board to make Food Waste Composting a Condition of Approval (section N). It cites Mayor Bloomberg’s New York City plan to compost 100,000 tons immediately, include 600 schools in the composting program, and build a composting plant in the region to turn compost into bio-gas, which in turn can become electricity. San Francisco and Seattle already have programs for single family homes.

AvalonBay, to its credit, has installed composting facilities at one of its developments in San Francisco. Ron Ladell, attorney for AvalonBay’s Plan A, said that “AvalonBay is not in the composting business,” but he was wrong.

AvalonBay can either install appropriate chutes for organic waste now (not larger than 2×2 feet) as part of the new design or it can stall, and then struggle through a retrofit in the future (after falling behind, again, in green building design), or it can do nothing and let the trash pile up (a health hazard), as photos show at its Lawrenceville and West Windsor developments. In any case they can require, or educate, their tenants to use standard biodegradable bags for food waste (13 gallons, available at McCaffrey’s) and take them to compost units — but AvalonBay should really provide the facilities themselves to make it easy for everyone.

Jon Vogel, project manager for AvalonBay in Princeton, has claimed to be the Green Man, but he has sounded dubious about chutes for compost. Why? — no big deal, especially when so many interior spaces need to be redesigned anyway. He has rightly said that his maintenance team will have the job of educating the tenants in living green (including recycling).

Sustainable Princeton will begin a composting program in all the schools this fall; they will soon be marketing the composting program to our private communities, i.e. Washington Oaks. AvalonBay should volunteer to be a leader and earn the sustainability credit at corporate headquarters that Mr. Vogel wants from the Princeton project.

If AvalonBay doesn’t embrace the future now, how will they respond to responsible tenants who really want to compost? AvalonBay should recognize that composting capabilities will be a selling point for their communities, not a downside. They should use their proposed Princeton development as their poster-child.

Vojislava Pophristic, PhD

Professor of Chemistry, University of the Sciences

Tee Ar Place