March 6, 2019

Organics Program Still Uncertain As Town Explores Options

By Anne Levin

Princeton’s Curbside Organics Program is currently on hiatus, and the town wants participants to help decide the most effective way to get it back on track.

Some 800 families were enrolled in the $65-a-year service, which began in 2011. The program was was halted January 30 after it became evident that the waste was not always being taken to a farm for composting, as was originally planned, but was sometimes going to a landfill.

The town has met twice with the New Jersey Composting Council to discuss the issue. It was concluded that changes to the program are necessary. The question is which changes, and how many, and Mayor Liz Lempert hopes customers will provide input to help determine the answers.

“We are right now exploring various options for bringing the program back,” she
said yesterday. “When we met with the New Jersey Composting Council, they told us that if we wanted to keep the program as it has been in terms of range of materials that are accepted, then we might have a harder time finding a nearby facility. Conversely, if we were to limit what was accepted, we might have better luck finding a facility that is close by. So it’s one of the factors we’re going to consider, and we’re hoping to hear from people in the program as to what are critical elements they rely upon that would make them continue.”

The program could be limited to very basic food waste materials and scraps, rather than including other organic materials such as meat, bones, paper products, and yard waste, Lempert said. If the list of what is accepted were to be kept as is, requiring it be transported to a facility that is of a considerable distance away, then the price for the program would have to rise. “The further away we have to truck material, that comes with a cost,” she said. “We might not have as many choices. So that can impact our ability to find a good price. There is also an environmental detriment to trucking it further.”

Also on the table is the possibility of having the hauling done “in house,” by the town. That would still entail finding a facility that would receive the organics. “It’s important to find a facility where we can have a stable agreement with them,” Lempert said, “so we don’t end up in the same situation where for a while, unbeknownst to us, some of the material was not being composted.”

The town had recently sought bids from contractors to continue the program for the next two years. But the only company to provide a bid was the current one, and they wanted double the price. Previous to that, it was announced last fall that the program was at risk because participants were routinely including plastic bags and utensils in the waste.

The town is sending periodic emails to participants, and held a community meeting on the subject. The goal is to keep the cost in approximately the same range as in the past. “But another factor is how much more they would be willing to pay if that would allow for more items to be included,” Lempert said.

It all depends on where the facility is located. “And there are many different, interacting factors,” Lempert said. “We’re still in the exploring phase. One of the things we’d like to try to find is a facility as near as possible that allows as expansive a program as possible. But there will likely be trade-offs.”