February 6, 2014

Waste Is Focus Of Sustainable Princeton Ideas Breakfast

If Leslie Burger has her way, the unsightly power station behind the Princeton Public Library will be history by 2020. “I’d like it to go away,” said the Library’s director, who was one of several speakers to offer her visions for the future at the third annual “Great Ideas Breakfast” held by Sustainable Princeton last week.

“I’d like to reclaim the land and build a translucent box where the community gathers for screenings and other events,” Ms. Burger continued. “It will be made of smart glass, which you just have to touch to make the box dim.”

Held at the library, where the Princeton Environmental Film Festival is continuing through February 9, the breakfast attracted members of the community interested in turning Princeton into a more environmentally friendly and sustainable place to live and work. Architect Kirsten Thoft, Mayor Liz Lempert, and Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed policy director Jennifer Coffey were among those who shared their ideas at the zero-waste event, where everything was re-used or composted.

“This is one of my favorite events, because it allows a broad cross-section of our community to talk about vision,” said Sustainable Princeton’s director Diane Landis, this week. “It’s very inspiring.”

Molly Dykstra, the founder of Green Paper Cup, shared what she called her “galvanizing moment” on a beach in Oahu, Hawaii. “It was in July, on a pre-dawn walk,” she recalled. “I had taken just a few short steps when I saw it — microplastics, where shells and seaweed would have been. They came from the Pacific garbage patch.”

Wondering how the beach could be cleaned up, Ms. Dykstra soon came to a depressing conclusion. “There is no cleaning it up,” she said. “There is no protecting our children. But we have to educate people.” Ms. Dykstra urges a ban on all single-use plastic bags. “I want to be part of a solution. I don’t want to be paralyzed,” she said. “I want to leave pristine beaches and happy, healthy children.”

Ms. Coffey of Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed told the audience that the Hopewell Township organization has been working to make a case for clean water for 65 years. “Princeton is a microcosm for water issues in New Jersey and throughout the world,” she said. “We have too much water. We also have too little. And our water is too dirty.”

Ms. Coffey’s vision for the future is an intense focus on water issues. Rain barrels will be installed in houses, and a forum based on Princeton’s water issues will be established in the next year.

Architect Kirsten Thoft, who lives in a LEED-certified home, said things don’t change quickly in the building industry. “In the past five years, I’ve tried to do better, even sneaking in green techniques without clients knowing,” she admitted. Her vision for the future involves co-housing, in which small-scale, affordable housing shares a communal building with public space and guest rooms. Developers tend to focus on building large houses for people raising families, instead of those in other stages of life. “Zoning has to change,” she added. “More developers have to start to make inroads on making housing that works for everybody.”

Others at the breakfast echoed Ms. Dykstra’s suggestion to ban single use plastic bags. Sheldon Sturges, a founder of Princeton Future, praised Sustainable Princeton for organizing the event and creating a public forum. Mayor Lempert said she expected that by 2020, Princeton will be sending waste to a facility not in Delaware, but nearby. Instead of having their leaves picked up, people will be hoarding them to use in their gardens. More recycling cans will be on Nassau street, and more children will be walking and biking to school.

“We’ll see ourselves as an innovator,” she said. “We will have greened our ordinances. We’ll be glad that in 2014, we made decisions with sustainability in mind.”

Ms. Landis said she looks forward to the breakfast every year because it helps guide Sustainable Princeton’s path for the future. “It’s pretty obvious that the waste issue runs very deep,” she said. “There is a lot of passion around improving our waste collection in town. We have a committee working on that, and that is one of the things I’m going to make clear to our board.”