Food Collection in Lambertville (NJ)

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Primary issue area:

Food

  • Community: Lambertville, NJ
  • Population: 3,906
  • Urban, suburban or rural: rural
  • Median household income: $71,352
  • Roadside pickup/Drop-off: roadside pickup
  • Started: 2011
  • Payment: $65/annually
  • Mandatory: no

“Our town is like a Vermont town. Green activities are supported all the time,” says Dave DelVecchio, mayor—for 25 years standing—of Lambertville.

“We’re nothing like what people think of when they think of New Jersey. We’re a river town,” he says of the community of just under 4,000 people about 15 miles northwest of Trenton, on the Delaware River.

Today, the curbside collection program is another one of the green things about Lambertville, as Jean Milman, a member of the Lambertville Environmental Commission, confirms. “This has been really great. I moved here almost 20 years ago,” she says. “At that time, Lambertville was not even recycling cardboard. I moved from San Francisco where there is quite a lot of environmental awareness and legislation and I was quite concerned.” But she says she now feels proud of her town, “and when I tell people about the program, many say they wished their towns had similar programs.”

Financial feasibility piloting

Mayor DelVecchio notes that it began with the 2011 adoption of a single-stream recycling plan and “people said we need to do more; we need to do what Princeton is doing. And they set up a pilot program for food waste recycling, and it was driven really by the environmental committee. So I made it work financially; they got a grant from recycling New Jersey and I used our recycling grant.

“In New Jersey, every community gets a Clean Communities grant, and we’ve used it for different things in the past but we chose to use part of that for this program,” DelVecchio says. “And there’s a group called Sustainable New Jersey that gives out small grants to help towns with start-up. We had one of those grants and it provided printed material for the program and things like that, things that you might not think about when you first start.”

Between the grants and a nominal $65 fee for the service, participants get the Third Can curbside cart, a pail to use in the kitchen, compostable bin-liner bags and free compost three times a year from Ag Choice, the composting facility in Sussex County that handles Lambertville’s food scrap waste.

Reducing MSW costs is key

The waste is collected weekly by the city’s own truck; the public works department reports an average of 10 pounds of food scraps and soiled paper collected weekly per participant, noting that some participants report reducing their trash from three bags per week to one.

DelVecchio points out that reducing costs for solid waste is an important part of the program, noting that, since their recycling program began in 2011, “we do 27 percent more than we did and that saved us $27,588 last year over what we would have paid to put it in the landfill or an incinerator.”

Making it easy to do

Milman says their messaging is simple and straightforward: “Many people like the idea as an environmentally correct thing to do. It saves the city money. And we make it easy,” she notes. “The city provides free biobags, which sit in the on-the-counter compost bins that you can pick up whenever city hall is open.

The city works department has been very flexible and supportive, too,” she adds, noting that “households can combine wastes in one bin; if a restaurant is small and only need weekly pick-up, it can join at the lower residential rate” and, she says, “Lester (Myers, public works director) answers emails and phone calls to help answer questions, and that certainly helps!”

The program has grown every year, from more than about eight tons the first year to more than 50 in 2016, with the addition of the restaurants.

“That shows that the residents want to do it; we probably could’ve done it without making people pay,” DelVecchio says, “but that shows a level of commitment, and at 65 bucks a year, it doesn’t break anybody. But we were starting something new and we know that people always take something more seriously when they’re paying for it,” the mayor adds. “It’s human nature.”

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