July 31, 2019

Council to Explore Public/Private Partnership For Food Waste Program

By Anne Levin

Princeton Council is looking into a replacement for the Curbside Organics Program that was suspended in February. At a meeting July 22, Municipal Administrator Marc Dashield outlined a possible public/private partnership that would have the town doing the hauling, and a private contractor processing the material. Council members indicated they are interested in pursuing the possibility.

“There is a unique opportunity we have,” Dashield said. “We have been in discussions with MetLife Stadium, and they have a digester they are not using anymore, and they are willing to donate it.”

Dashield said it would cost the town about $20,000 to repair dents and rust in the digester, and to move it to the local area. Representatives of the town visited the stadium to inspect the digester, and have been told by the manufacturer that it is otherwise in good shape.

Partnering with a private contractor would provide the town with “the best of both worlds,” Dashield said. “The municipality would provide the hauling, which eliminates the need to go out for bid.” The arrangement would also allow the town to have control over the process, and it would reduce some of the regulatory requirements.

A local farm is envisioned as the partner in the program. “We know there is an interest,” Dashield said. “We would do an RFP (request for proposal).”

Princeton’s Curbside Organics Program was suspended early this year after seven years of operation. Solterra, the solid waste contractor, was not making required pickups, and there were periodic failures to take the food waste to a farm for composting, delivering it instead to a landfill. In addition, when the town sought new bids for waste hauling and disposal, the only bidder was Solterra, at double the previous price.

Some 800 families were enrolled in the service, which cost $65 a year. Princeton was the first town in New Jersey to start a composting program, and last year was one of 35 cities to receive a challenge grant of $100,000 from Bloomberg Philanthropies to further develop its organic waste plan.

Mayor Liz Lempert called the proposal
“a potentially exciting opportunity,” and said MetLife has indicated that the town needs to make a decision in the next few weeks. “It would be helpful to have an analysis of the hauling at our next meeting,” she said. “The municipality has been working on what it would look like, and what the costs are to bring this in-house.”

Councilwoman Leticia Fraga asked Dashield if there was a specific number of households that would need to participate in the program. He said it would be cost-effective if it can be kept at its previous level, or slightly above. Council President Jenny Crumiller and Councilwoman Eve Niedergang commented that they support the effort, but want to see the final numbers before making a decision. Dashield said he will prepare a resolution for consideration at Council’s next meeting August 5.