Officials explore options to bring back Princeton’s food waste composting program

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MetLife biodigester food waste composting Princeton
The MetLife biodigester

Princeton officials hope the municipal food waste composting program will be reinstated later this year, with a short-term solution in place by this summer and a long-term solution in place by the end of the year that could include the use of a biodigester. Previously, officials had hoped to have a new program in place by the end of April.

The programs will be managed and run by municipal employees rather than contracting with an outside company to pick up and haul participants’ food waste, officials told residents at a public meeting attended by about 90 people on Monday night.

The temporary solution that likely will be implemented this summer is to set up sites around town where people can drop off food waste. The food waste would then be taken to a municipal facility and possibly to local farms, where it would be turned into compost. Bob Hough, director of infrastructure and operations for the municipality, said money was added into the capital budget at the last minute and some public works projects were deferred so that the town can buy a new truck this year to be used to haul the food waste and make improvements to the sewer operating committee site on River Road, where the new food waste composting program will be based.

A long-term solution could be to use a biodigester to turn food waste into compost. The management of the MetLife Stadium has offered to donate a used biodigester to the municipality if the town will pay the cost of moving it from East Rutherford to Princeton. The MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants and New York Jets football teams, used the food waste biodigester for the Super Bowl back in 2014. Back in 2009, the stadium had signed a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pledging to become an environmental steward by implementing a number of green initiatives that would reduce its carbon footprint. Later that same year, the stadium was named the “greenest stadium” in the NFL by the Environmental Protection Agency. The biodigester has been sitting around unused ever since a new leadership team took over the management of the stadium in early 2016 and decided not to recycle food scraps.

Matt Wasserman, president of the board of Sustainable Princeton, said the MetLife biodigester makes high quality compost. The MetLife biodigester can handle nine or ten tons of food waste, or about 20 to 30 percent more food waste than the old municipal program, which served about 1,000 households. The municipality could use the extra capacity to add more residents to the program or to add some local restaurants to the program. Wasserman said over the next couple of weeks, officials will be assessing the MetLife biodigester to make sure the municipality is not taking equipment that will break down and cost lots of money to fix.

Drop-off locations could also be a long-term solution for parts of the community. Four or five drop-off sites could be located around town and would be staffed by volunteers, at least in the beginning. Ultimately an honor system would be used. Participants could be required to take a quiz to show they understand the rules regarding what is allowed to be composted.

The town could put up a tent at the River Road facility and compost the food waste there. Some residents questioned whether odors would be a problem. Hough said odors shouldn’t be problematic, but added that the facility is located next to a sewer treatment plant anyway.

Some food waste could be taken to the Cherry Grove Farm Cooperative, where chickens would eat the food scraps. Double Brook Farm is another possible location.

Hough said the town could be divided into two zones and municipal workers would collect food waste over two days each cycle.

It is still unclear how much a program would cost participants or taxpayers. Officials said the charges for programs will be determined in the next few months. A few people at the meeting said there should be an incentive to compost and recycle, and that somehow the town should move towards a system where people pay for throwing out trash by weight, but not for recycling.

The old food waste composting program was shut down at the end of January after the hauling company doubled the price for the service. For several months, organic waste deposited in bins by participants 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.

Some people started compost piles in yards after the program was canceled. But some items like cardboard pizza boxes and chicken bones can’t be composted in yards.

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert said she was “heart broken” that the program was canceled and said the town is committed to the program.

“We’re excited (about the possibility of the biodigester) but we want to be cautiously excited about because still need to make sure doing due diligence before we jump into something,” she told residents Monday.

On Saturday, May 4, from 10 a.m. to noon, composting demonstrations will take place at the Mountain Lakes House. The event is free and open to the public.

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

4 Comments

  1. The cavalier attitude towards odors from the composting facility is distressing. The sewer treatment plant is not supposed to have odors, yet does. That somehow makes it ok if the composting facility stinks?

  2. Could the cost of this program be reduced with Volunteer help in any way? I am envisioning a Green Matters Corp made up of youth volunteers who can make the collection rounds and assist with running of the bio digester. Also as a resident of neighboring town could this program be expanded and shared with other townships ?

  3. “It is still unclear how much a program would cost participants or taxpayers. Officials said the charges for programs will be determined in the next few months”. “Bob Hough, director of infrastructure and operations for the municipality, said money was added into the capital budget at the last minute and some public works projects were deferred so that the town can buy a new truck this year to be used to haul the food waste and make improvements to the sewer operating committee site on River Road”

    This sounds like it’s going to be expensive

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