What’s Standing in Your Way?

Posted on by Donna Drewes, Sustainable Jersey

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Removing Green Roadblocks

What’s stopping you from recycling your food waste, biking to work or conserving water? The Sustainable Jersey Small Grants program funds projects that, in many cases, remove barriers to enable environmental tipping points. Coupled with the leadership of Green Teams at the local level, these projects leverage small investments into large returns.

This month, Sustainable Jersey announced the 34 New Jersey towns that were selected for Sustainable Jersey Small Grants funded by the PSEG Foundation. Since 2009, Sustainable Jersey has distributed approximately $1,375,000 in grants to New Jersey municipalities. Here are three examples of municipalities that are using their grants to find solutions to green roadblocks.

Lawrence Township’s Food Waste Recycling Program
Located in the center of New Jersey, Lawrence is an economically and ethnically diverse community of 35,000 people. The township, led by Sustainable Lawrence, wanted to start a food waste recycling program. Organic waste (food scraps, paper towels and napkins, yard material, etc.) is a significant part of the residential waste stream. Lawrence Township disposes of 1,000 tons of trash from residences into landfills each month. A food waste recycling program can reduce the amount of garbage each participating household puts into the waste stream by 20 percent or more. But, Central Jersey Waste requires a 300-household minimum to begin a food waste recycling program. Sustainable Lawrence did an informal survey of residents that showed that the $200 program fee was a barrier to participation.

Lawrence Township applied and was granted a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant to launch a food waste recycling program. The grant funds will be dedicated to cutting down the cost for the first 300 people that sign up for food waste recycling by covering the cost of the curbside recycling containers and kitchen waste bin liners. Achieving momentum is key to a successful program as has been demonstrated in other programs throughout the country, including Lawrence’s neighbors in Princeton.

Lawrence Township hopes that the first 300 people to sign-on to the program will in turn help recruit the next 700 people. Securing their commitment and rewarding and recognizing their willingness to step up and be pioneers in this area will encourage participants to be effective promoters of the program. Once participants are in the program for a year, most people will remain in the program as sorting and composting behavior become ingrained in daily routines.

Lawrence Township believes that the key to having significant impact, both short and longer term, is the demonstration of a successful and heavily subscribed food waste recycling program. The funding provided by Sustainable Jersey should help create the momentum and Lawrence Township will document the program’s best practices so that other New Jersey towns can replicate it.

Montclair Township’s Bike Depot
With over 37,000 people, Montclair Township is an urban suburb in Essex County that is home to a creative group of residents whose presence is felt in the vibrant downtown and on the campus of Montclair State University. With many of the train station parking lots wait-listed, the Green Team wanted to provide a way for commuters to bike to the train stations instead of driving. Currently, the bike racks at the train stations are not secure enough to permit anything more than a “station bike” to be locked to them; a station bike is an old, dilapidated bicycle that the owner can afford to lose. Due to their condition, these bikes are not safe enough to ride more than a few blocks.

Montclair Township applied for and was awarded a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant to assist in developing a “Bike Depot” at the Bay Street Train Station. The depot will provide enclosed, weather-proof, and secure access and storage so that commuters who ride their bicycles to the train station – en route either to New York City or from the city to New Jersey suburbs – can rely on them as a consistent and reliable transportation option.

The depot will enable an owner to use a safer, higher-quality bike, allowing the owner to safely travel further on their commute. Lockers will be provided within the depot for storage of bicycle helmets and other necessary equipment and a security camera and card swipe access will further ensure the security of the bicycles. The construction of the depot will be managed by the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition (NJBWC). NJBWC envisions the bike depot as a new best practice for other station towns in New Jersey and would encourage and support its development throughout the NJ Transit network.

Town of Hammonton’s Water Conservation Tax Credit/Rebate Program
With a population of over 14,000, the Town of Hammonton, known as the “Blueberry Capital of the World,” is located in the Pine Barrens in Atlantic County. Hammonton has been promoting water conservation for the past few years with respectable success. The idea and consequences of water conservation hold special importance to this town. Hammonton draws its water from the Kirkwood/Cohansey Aquifers, which sit atop each other and constitute the largest underground water source in New Jersey. The two also lie beneath two key watersheds in the region: the Great Egg Harbor River (a Federally-designated Wild and Scenic River) and the Mullica River (said to be the most pristine watershed on the Atlantic Seaboard).

The town has been in negotiation for several years with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection regarding its water allotment and the disposal of its treated wastewater. Those negotiations have sensitized the town government and residents to the need both to use water more efficiently and to develop better methods of disposal.

Using a resident’s suggestion as a springboard, the Township and its Green Team applied and was the recipient of a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant for a Town of Hammonton Water Conservation Tax Credit/Rebate Program. The program will provide a credit on the bills of users of the municipal water supply system upon certification that they have purchased and installed water-saving devices, appliances, or other technology. The grant funds will be used to provide the funds against which the credits/rebates would be applied. Although there are several programs in other states, counties, and municipalities around the country (principally the Southwest and Florida), this would be the first of its kind in New Jersey.

The Town of Hammonton hopes that the project will result in greater awareness of water conservation issues, and actual increased water conservation among town households. Most likely the first benefits to be appreciated will be financial, as people receive the credits/rebates and then experience reduced ongoing bills for water use, but the municipality hopes that the project will result in an audience more receptive to the wider benefits of water conservation such as the long-term protection of aquifers, preservation of surface water and the preservation of natural habitats and the wildlife they contain.

“Sustainable Jersey’s Small Grants Program allows us, and many other municipalities, to continue to innovate despite continuing economic strictures on the local level,” said Hammonton Mayor Steve DiDonato. “Honestly, the entire Sustainable Jersey regimen has been a continuing source of progress for our town environmentally, socially, and economically. It has helped us keep our message of revitalization fresh and current, and has provided us with so many ways to improve the quality of life in Hammonton.”

The Sustainable Jersey Small Grants Program is made possible with generous funding from Walmart and the PSEG Foundation. The PSEG Foundation provided $400,000 to municipalities in the form of small grants to fund the 2012-2013 program. New grant opportunities will be announced in the future.

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