Princeton scraps current food waste composting program

Princeton officials have decided to suspend the town’s current food waste composting program at the end of the month. The last food waste pick up will be on Jan. 30.

Officials hope the move is temporary, and that a new system will be in place in another three months. “We’re hoping we will have the opportunity to restructure the program in a way that works better in the long run,” Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said.

For several months, organic waste deposited in bins by participants in the town’s composting program went to an incinerator in Tullytown, Pa. because the composting bins contain too much prohibited material. At other times, the food waste was hauled to a farm 80 miles away near Pottstown, Pa.

“Unfortunately we have run into some difficulties with the hauler” Princeton Business Administrator Marc Dashield said at the public meeting of the Princeton Council Monday night. “The hauler’s services have not been adequate, and we have not been able to ensure that the food waste is being provided to a farm to be turned into compost.”

Dashield also said the contract for the service came up for renewal, and the only bidder responding was the subsidiary of Central Jersey Waste that runs the composting program now. The hauler also doubled the price, Dashield said.

Officials will look into finding a better alternative, Dashield said, adding that one possibility is having municipal staff handle the food waste removal from residences. The town would need to find a location where the food waste could be composted.

In Lawrence, residents pay $38.50 per month, billed on a quarterly basis by Central Jersey Waste. The fee includes a 32-gallon recycle cart. Organic carts in Lawrence are collected every Thursday and the contents are transported to various local farms for composting.

The full text of the email that was sent to Princeton food waste composting participants:

Curbside Organic Program Participants,

The past year has been a series of highs and lows for Princeton’s Curbside Organic Waste Program. Princeton became a Champion City in the Mayor’s Challenge sponsored by Bloomberg Philanthropies. As a finalist in the competition, we were able to explore how Princeton could tackle the food waste challenge using behavioral science interventions to reduce and improve the quality of organic waste streams and create a decentralized food waste reclamation process for local use. In the end, we were not awarded the final grant that would finance our concept, but the process provided us with valuable insight and data.

This year also illustrated the difficulties in managing a food waste program. Our participants experienced service disruptions as our solid waste contractor consistently failed to make timely required pickups. They also failed to secure a proper home for the food waste, sending it at times to a local incinerator.

Compounding these operational issues, our food waste stream contained unacceptable levels of contamination from time to time.  In those instances, the farm rejected our food waste and it ended up in a landfill.

Recently, the municipality sought bids from contractors to provide our food waste hauling and disposal needs for the next two years. The sole acceptable bid came from our current hauler at more than double the existing price. As a result, the program’s cost to participants and the municipality would double with no guarantee that pick-up service will improve or that our food waste won’t be incinerated or landfilled.

One thing that the Bloomberg experience has taught us is that we must not be afraid of setbacks. Instead, they provide us with an opportunity to take a new look at a project and learn from what we have done in the past.

As result, we believe it is in our best interest to temporarily suspend the curbside food waste program as we work to re-invent the program. The last pick up will be on Wednesday, January 30. Over the next three months, the Municipality intends to embark on a process of re-evaluating how we provide this service. This evaluation will include seeking bids from local farms to take our waste materials and determine if municipal staff can provide the hauling services. By evaluating this alternative along with others, we plan to bring the program back stronger than ever.

This is an important program and we are committed to taking the steps to make it successful. We ask our current participants to stay engaged with us while we develop the right solution for Princeton. We also ask participants to retain their existing organics containers until the 2019 registration is released.

Reminder:  Organic curbside pickup will continue until the end of January 2019. (Last pick up will be Wednesday, January 30.)

We will continue to keep you updated as we work towards re-inventing the program.

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1 comment
  • I hope that Princeton will give serious consideration to an excellent approach to organics collections used in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Residents can put leaves, clippings, and food scraps in a 64 or 96 gallon rollcart that can be rolled out to the curb on a designated day for weekly pickup. While Princeton’s approach has required one truck making the rounds for foodwaste, plus caravans of 2-3 vehicles to collect loose yardwaste in the streets, Ann Arbor’s approach requires only one vehicle. That’s some major savings in man-hours, fossil fuels, and vehicle purchase/maintenance. Ann Arbor then composts all the material right outside of town, avoiding long drives by heavy trucks to distant composting centers. No monthly fees for participation, no endless mess in the streets.

    It’s really hard to witness Princeton’s inefficient approaches to foodwaste and yardwaste collection all these years when such a good example of a proven alternative has been available all along. The relevant Ann Arbor webpage is https://www.a2gov.org/departments/trash-recycling/Pages/Compost.aspx.

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