By Anne Levin
At a meeting Monday evening, Princeton Council heard a presentation on a new town-wide, cart-based, pick-up program for landfill waste and organics. The proposal, which is for residents, aims to reduce fees paid at landfills while lowering the town’s carbon footprint.
Council also approved measures allowing developers to proceed with obtaining financing for two inclusionary housing projects at Princeton Shopping Center.
Consultant Wayne DeFeo, who has been advising the municipality on trash and recycling issues, spoke, as did Sustainable Princeton’s executive director Christine Symington. DeFeo said the proposed five-year waste removal program would not replace the current system of every-other-week recycling pickup. But the weekly collection of trash would be more efficient. Residents would be issued a 64-gallon standardized can, or 32-gallon if requested. These standardized containers can be picked up mechanically, allowing for automated or semi-automated collections and lower labor costs.
Thanks to the increased volume of residential trash because of the pandemic, and a shrinking labor pool, costs for waste pickup have soared in recent years. “More volume at the curb means more people are needed to pick it up, more trucks, and higher costs,” DeFeo said. “Labor is a nightmare in the solid waste industry right now.”
In New Jersey, costs have risen to about 40 to 150 percent higher than what they were, DeFeo added. “In a recent bid in Atlantic City, they were thrilled to only receive a 45 percent increase,” he said. “They took measures to contain the increase in price, and that’s what is being suggested here.”
In one option, residents would make a reservation for the collection of bulk waste. In surveys done in other towns, DeFeo said, it was determined that a relatively low percentage of households put out bulk waste each week. Collecting bulk waste from households that have scheduled them, rather than going down every block past every residence, would make the operation much more efficient.
Another option would include a component for town-wide organics collection, which would be once a week. The town’s
previous organics program, which had 1,000 subscribers at its peak, was terminated three years ago because the facility used at the time could no longer accept the materials. But the industry has grown, and there are many more facilities in operation today.
A problem with the previous organics program was contamination. Some participants put the wrong materials in the wrong receptacles. “That is worrisome,” said Mayor Mark Freda. “Are we going to enforce what goes in the solid waste bucket? We need to be up front about that.”
Assistant Municipal Engineer Jim Purcell said a compliance officer would be monitoring the program, teaching the public how to follow the requirements of proper disposal. Councilwoman Eve Niedergang acknowledged that the changes would be substantial. “We are not underestimating how much we’re asking of our residents,” she said. “As with the sustainable landscaping program, no one wants to be punitive. We want to educate people and have them do the right thing. We know people with best intentions will make mistakes.”
Councilwoman Mia Sacks, who chaired the Infrastructure and Operations Committee that worked with Sustainable Princeton to develop the proposed program, said she originally had concerns about rolling out the program now because of the amount of growth and construction currently going on in town. “But when we considered everything on balance, especially the costs, and the fact that so many residents have been asking us to bring back the organics program, that made a difference,” she said. “And now we’re bringing it back with the full confidence that the materials will be responsibly composted.”
Symington of Sustainable Princeton also expressed confidence in the proposal. “Our team here is ready to support the education, and how this is an environmentally successful thing to do,” she said. “Contamination will need to be managed, and everybody’s going to that with their eyes wide open. The town has a good chance of success.”
Purcell said outreach and public education would begin soon, and a new contract could be in place by February 2023. Aspects of the program will begin going out to bid this week.
Following a second presentation focused on the two inclusionary development projects at Princeton Shopping Center, Council voted in favor of two resolutions and four ordinances, the final steps allowing WinnDevelopment and AvalonBay Communities to obtain financing and proceed with the two projects. Both were previously approved by the Planning Board.
One project, known as The Alice, is at the corner of North Harrison Street and Terhune Road. The AvalonBay project is located on the site of a previously under-utilized parking lot in the shopping center. Twenty percent of the units in both complexes are designated for affordable housing, part of the court-ordered affordable housing settlement agreement for the municipality.
The Alice, which will have 125 units on four floors, will include a portion of land to be given to Princeton to be used as public space. The agreement for the 200-unit, four-story AvalonBay development provides for the developer to give cash to the town for improvements at Grover Park, which borders the shopping center.
Council members praised the projects. “If you looked up ‘affordable housing done right’ in the dictionary, this is what you would see,” said Councilman Leighton Newlin.
Financial details, which are included in the 753-page agenda packet available on princetonnj.gov, will be discussed in a public hearing at the next Council meeting Monday, August 22.