August 7, 2019

Spending Taxpayer Money for Digester Lacks Elements of Good Green Policy

To the Editor:

On Monday night the Mayor and Council (with the exception of Eve Niedergang) voted to spend 20K of hard earned taxpayer money to acquire a “donated” digester. The idea behind the initial investment is that it will allow the town to resurrect its curbside composting program. The initial program, unlike the current one being proposed, was designed as a pilot. The goals of the program were to reduce food waste and, more importantly, to serve as a model of a successful program that would eventually scale to composting for all residents and be duplicated by other towns in New Jersey. That program had the public support of the PEC, Sustainable Princeton, all of Council, the Mayor, local green activists, many residents, and myself.

The donated digester can’t scale to support full composting and it isn’t going to offer NJ towns a model to follow. Several green activists came out against the proposed program. Princeton University is using a digester, yes, but the elements that make their program successful are unfortunately lacking in ours. Their digester is on site, they are not hauling the compost, they have the ability to mandate participation, control contamination, and have deep pockets to pay for repairs and competent staff to oversee their program.

From the failure of the initial program we learned transparency is important. We learned that contamination is a big issue and finally, that voluntary programs even with wide-spread support don’t generate high participation numbers.

None of the critical issues responsible for the failure of the first program have been addressed by the elected officials that voted yes on the digester. We all want to be optimists and with the climate crisis looming, we all want to support green action. It is easy to vote to spend now and worry about the logistics later. It isn’t bold to support voluntary composting in 2019, what is bold is advocating for good governance.

Good green policies are well researched, transparent, authentic, and impactful. They help the planet and make good fiscal sense. The current proposal to have the town take on hauling the compost, operating a digester, hiring more municipal staff, a private paid “consultant,” and buying trucks, the cost of which is all based on estimates, isn’t good use of taxpayers dollars. It sadly lacks all the elements of a good green policy.

Bainy Suri
Chestnut Street