Recycling a Hot Topic at City Environmental Commission Meeting

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—With the city's enthusiastic Recycling Coordinator Donna Caputo as their special guest, the Environmental Commission's February meeting focused heavily on recycling.

Not only is the city considering hiring a new recycling contractor, and parting ways with its longtime service provider, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, but they are also beginning to audit the effectiveness of recycling in the city's public schools. 

Several environmental commission members expressed concern at Tuesday's meeting that some organizations within the city were not recycling to the best of their ability.

Jimmy Kuhlthau, one of the commissioners, said he had examined the trash at several of the city's schools and was concerned that too much material which could be recycled was thrown out in the regular trash.

“There is a lot of recycling in the garbage,” Kuhlthau said, adding that it costed city taxpayers money by increasing "tippage fees" at the county landfill.

He noted that one school on Livingston Avenue was regularly leaving 30-40 black plastic garbage bags of trash per day curbside for pickup.

Caputo disputed Kuhlthau's conclusions and said that local custodians have worked hard to improve the recycling rate in the schools since the school recycling program was first implemented in 1997.

But, nevertheless, she says she took immediate action after learning of the allegations.

"I immediatley contacted the Board of Education… Pictures were taken.  Discussions were had," Caputo said.

Caputo said that, with the help of "an outside agency," namely the county government, to audit the recycling rate at the district's schools, and find out just how much material is being recycled, and how much recycling is being discarded in the regular garbage.

As a result, the county solid waste division has been visiting the city's public schools to make sure recycling containers were in place, as well as interview students and staff about each school's recycling program.

She said two schools had been audited thus far, as of February 17.

“We really do a lot to promote recycling,” she said.  “When accusations are made, things aren't presented clearly…  Some people are making it sound like there's really not that much recycling going on in the schools, which is not accurate."

“I know that we have a very good program in New Brunswick,” Caputo said, adding that, “There is definitely room for improvement.”

Caputo pointed out that the city conducts educational outreach at city schools to encourage recycling.

Schools are the largest single generators of waste in a municipality.

Though Caputo said the schools have made a tremendous improvement in compliance to recycling standards and practices, she said it would be impossible to achieve 100% compliance within city schools due to the nature of working with a large number of children and adolescents every day.

Environmental Commission Chairwoman Erin Connolly said it is important that the environmental commission work closely with the city in order to address any concerns regarding the recycling program.

“I think it's really important that we focus on working together instead of not working together,” Connolly at the meeting, in reference to Kuhlthau alerting the state government about his findings.

Caputo said it is important that any recycling violations be reported to her office in the city's Department of Public Works.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently named Middlesex County as the top recycler in the state in its annual findings. According to the NJDEP's most recent data, from 2012, Middlesex County recycled approximately 65% of its total generated waste.

Currently, the city’s recycling program only allows for #1 and #2 type plastics to be submitted for pickup due to the state of the domestic and international waste market, according to Caputo.

But that may soon change, depending on which contractor the city hires to run its recycling operation.

Caputo said the way the Environmental Commission can best assist the recycling program is by promoting MyWaste, a free application for smart phones and computers that provides reminders of garbage and recycling days.

Based on a user's location, the app will also alert the resident to any changes in the schedule, such as pick-ups that are re-scheduled due to inclement weather.

In addition, Caputo said the city continues to directly mail recycling and trash collection schedules, in spite of the cost.

“We feel that even though it's an expense, we feel it is worthwhile to do,” she said.

Changes to the recycling and trash collection schedules are posted on the city's website.

Other matters on the commission's lengthy agenda included the “Sustainable Jersey” grant program, the city's litter clean-up "block captain program," and a tour of the city's community gardens scheduled for April 18.

The Sustainable Jersey Grant is allotted by the state Environmental Commissions Association and is based on a checklist of 26 items that can be done by a town or municipality in order to raise their sustainability profile and allow for a city like New Brunswick to be a “certified green community.”

The items are tallied for a total overall score, of which 150 points would be needed for a minimum level of certification.

The commission also discussed a a “Green Infrastructure Plan” implemented which would review local advantages and obstacles to sustainability.

Such a plan would include the completion of an "Impervious Surface Assessment" and inventory local concrete/blacktop/roadway surfaces for their runoff impact, an aspect of pollution which can be remedied by local government planning and action.