April 10, 2019

Princeton Should Take Lead In Making Organics Recycling Work

To the Editor:

I was quite disappointed when the organics recycling program was suspended due to a variety of errors, most of which it seems could be corrected. Going further, it may be that changing the way we charge for trash collection might make it much easier to expand the program and solve the problem.  

In thinking about this issue, we should acknowledge that our current methods for disposing of trash/garbage are unsustainable. We not only generate far too much waste, we pretend to make it disappear by dumping everything in a large pile (landfill) for future generations to deal with.  The easiest first step for a better system would be to separate organic recyclable materials from the trash. Organics make up about 40 percent of the waste stream and can be processed into compost for use on farms and gardens.   

One critical factor that seems to be missing from the discussion is economics. At one point we were told that only one bidder responded to the request for quotes for organics removal, and the price was double that of the previous year: too much. But what is being doubled, and how much is too much?

It is worth remembering that before the Borough and Township consolidated, each and every household in the Township had to arrange for its own garbage pickup, a really inefficient system. In going through my records I found some 1992 bills from National Waste Disposal: I was paying about $29/month, or $348/year for trash removal.  I switched to another smaller company which saved me $7/mo; in 1995 I paid $22/month, A DEAL. After consolidation trash removal was provided as a service included in our local taxes.

In the most recent Princeton budget, trash/garbage removal is listed at about $1.6 million per year, or about $160/year per household (for about 10,000 households), a significant reduction over what township residents must have been paying just before consolidation in 2013. 

The point is that Princeton could afford to pay significantly more to do trash removal correctly, given what we are saving compared to pre-consolidation days.  In any case, it would be good to have some numbers on the per household cost of the present unsustainable system and better alternatives.

This might be a good time to consider better approaches to funding household trash removal, for example charging per volume removed per household (charging per bag of trash) rather than a flat fee per household; organics pickup would be free. This would provide a strong incentive for households to reduce the waste volume that they pay to remove by separating organics first. 

While our current approach is bad, it is an improvement over practices of the good old days.  Up to the late 1950s, New York City disposed of its trash by loading it on garbage scows which were towed out to sea and tipped into the ocean. If the winds and currents did not cooperate, or if the scow captain wanted an early dinner and tipped the load too soon, some of this filth was returned to the beaches of Long Island. This was CHEAP!

We no longer tolerate this kind of behavior, fortunately, and are willing to pay for better ways of doing things. 

Princeton should take the lead in finding a way to make organics recycling work.

Al Cavallo
Western Way