Sustainable Jersey: Residential Food Waste Recycling Programs Come to New Jersey

February 17, 2016

 Creative Commons via US Dept of Ag

Princeton, Lambertville and Lawrenceville leading the way to more sustainable communities

As a member of the “clean plate club,” I hate to throw away food (…my mother would be so proud). Unfortunately, keeping food out of the waste stream is a serious challenge and food waste is the largest component of our trash that could be recycled, but is not.

Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey
Randall Solomon

Americans waste an average of 20 pounds of food per person each month. When one weighs the societal cost of that waste in terms of resources, money and the environmental degradation associated with modern agriculture, and considers that food waste is a rich resource that can be returned to productive use, lost food waste becomes one of the most pressing problems that we can actually solve locally.

For this reason, backyard composting and residential food waste recycling is a growing trend across the United States. California, Washington and Minnesota lead the pack with the highest number of communities that have source separated organics food waste collection programs.

BioCycle’s Nationwide Survey Report (Taking States’ Pulse on Residential Food Waste Collection), revealed that California has 65 communities and Washington has 57 communities with source separated organics food waste collection programs. San Francisco even enforces a Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance that requires food waste recycling for all of its residents.

Through the hard work of visionary municipal and community leaders, and in two cases through the help of the Sustainable Jersey Small Grants Program, New Jersey now has three programs for residential food waste recycling that offer a path forward to implementing similar programs across the state.


Lambertville’s Third Can Food Waste Recycling Program (Hunterdon County)

Lambertville’s Environmental thirdcanCommission made it a priority to expand the city’s recycling program by specifically targeting the organic waste stream and food residuals. Lambertville collects an average of 1,700 tons of municipal solid waste each year, roughly 255 tons of which are food-related. Throwing away food waste with the rest of the garbage contributes to climate change and unnecessarily increases the city’s bills for disposal.

After receiving a $10,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant, Lambertville moved forward with a food waste recycling program. In May 2014, the City launched a survey to assess community interest and then started a food scraps collection pilot called “Third Can,” named for the third waste receptacle participating residents receive.

Participants pay $65 a year and receive a curbside cart, kitchen pail, compostable bags, troubleshooting support and free compost three times per year. All food scraps and soiled paper are collected weekly by the city, averaging 10 pounds a household per week, and composted at Ag Choice, a composting facility in Sussex County.

With the addition of funds from the one-time fee, no tax money is being used to expand the program. The fee is a subsidized rate, offset by the grant funds to keep the cost reasonable for participants. Several residents have reported decreasing from three bags of garbage per week to just one bag. Check out the Third Can brochure.

Green can

“The Lambertville Environmental Commission is proud to partner with the City on the Third Can Program,” said Jane Rosenblatt, chair of the Lambertville Environmental Commission. “The program’s success is a great representation of the commitment of Lambertville’s residents to better our environment through collective action.”

Lambertville Mayor David M. DelVecchio remarked in his 2016 State of the City Address that the community would begin “our long-awaited expansion of our successful food waste recycling program, adding 100 new participants.”

“I’m incredibly proud of what this program has become, and hopeful of what it will become,” DelVecchio said. “By giving residents another option for their waste other than a landfill, we not only save money, but we also do something positive for our environment. Composting has been a tremendous complement to our single-steam recycling, which I strongly believe is the best municipal program in the state. These achievements did not happen on their own. Public Works Director Lester Myers and the members of the Lambertville Environmental Commission deserve a tremendous amount of thanks and praise for making these programs work.

The Third Can program shows tremendous progress. In addition to the 100 new participants that will join the program, several local restaurants and the Lambertville Public School are participating in 2016. 

Princeton’s Curbside Organic Program (Mercer County)

Princeton Composts

Princeton Township piloted the first food waste program in New Jersey in 2011, and now offers it as service to all of its 9,500 households. With Princeton Township’s Curbside Organic Program, residents pay $65 a year for weekly collection of all food scraps, soiled paper and yard trimmings. They receive a 32-gallon cart, kitchen collector and a supply of BPI-certified compostable bags to line the kitchen collector. In 2014, the program had about 860 participating households.


Lawrence Township’s Curbside Organic Collection Program (Mercer County)


In Lawrence Township, Sustainable Lawrence conducted an informal survey of residents about a food recycling program showing a $200 program fee was a barrier to participation. Lawrence Township applied and was granted a $20,000 Sustainable Jersey Small Grant to launch Lawrence Township’s Curbside Organic Collection program. The grant funds are being used to reduce the cost for the first 300 people that sign up for food waste recycling. For more info visit the Lawrence Curbside Organics Facebook page.

More than $2.7 million in grants has been provided to municipalities and schools through the Sustainable Jersey Small Grants Program. The funded projects serve as practical models for the rest of the state while making measurable contributions toward the long-term goal of a sustainable New Jersey. Reducing the amount of food waste in landfills is an important goal. These pioneering projects get us one step closer to a strategy for how to do it.


Randy Solomon is a co-director of Sustainable Jersey and a regular contributor to the Dodge Blog. Sustainable Jersey is a nonprofit organization that provides tools, training and financial incentives to support communities as they pursue sustainability programs. By supporting community efforts to reduce waste, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and improve environmental equity, Sustainable Jersey is empowering communities to build a better world for future generations.

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Photo at top is courtesy Creative Commons/U.S. Department of Agriculture