Sadly, it's not unusual for things to be dumped in New Jersey. But a recent case brought a new twist: hundreds of pounds of pasta left along a local brook and a mystery about who did it and why.
Workers in Old Bridge Township found 15 wheel-barrow loads of "illegal dumped pasta along a creek in a residential neighborhood," Old Bridge Business Administrator Himanshu Shah told NPR.
The pasta came in a variety of shapes, from spaghetti to macaroni — mounds of it sitting along a wooded bank of Iresick Brook. Photos from the scene set off a range of reactions, from pasta puns to bafflement over who would do such a thing — and why?
But for residents like Nina Jochnowitz, the noodles' unexplained appearance was the last straw.
"At this point, I do know who did it," she told NPR. "But this story is not about that."
A local activist blames a missing town service
For her, it's not who dumped the pasta, but why. While people fixate on the "pasta-gate" aspect of the story, Jochnowitz said, "The story really is about the fact that in Old Bridge, we do not have bulk garbage pickup. It has been a point of contention for the entire time I've lived in this town — 23 years."
When Jochnowitz, an environmental activist and former township council candidate, posted images of the dumped pasta on Facebook a week ago, it set off an uproar of interest and questions. She estimated the pasta to weigh 300 or 400 pounds.
"My initial reaction is exactly what yours was," Jochnowitz told NPR. "It was funny and humorous and mortifying. It's funny because it's pasta and not garbage; it's humorous because you could make a lot of jokes. ... and then I'm horrified because of course it is a potential contamination" for the nearby stream and river.
Was it cooked or raw?
There have been conflicting reports about whether the pasta was cooked and then dumped, or if it merely grew soft and limp from rainfall. Shah says the city believes "several hundred pounds of uncooked pasta" was taken out of its packaging and dumped on the ground.
"It looks like it was only there for a short time but moisture did start to soften some of the pasta," he said.
Two workers from the city's public works department were able to clean up the area in less than an hour, Shah said.
Jochnowitz thanked the city's public works agency for the rapid response to what was dubbed "Mission Impastable," saying that when the crew removed the pasta, they also cleaned out all the garbage tossed in the basin.
But she also urged the township's leaders to start offering public trash services. The government's website says residents can contract with private trash companies, noting that "Old Bridge does not provide sanitation services for household solid waste or bulk items."
Those private firms often charge hundreds of dollars to remove large items like couches and mattresses, Jochnowitz said, and the township doesn't have a dump.
"Some people take to throwing their trash in remote parts of the town," she said. "My neighborhood happens to be a pretty remote neighborhood, so it's a common place for dumping."
As for the other part of the mystery — the who — local media outlets cite neighbors who believe the pasta came from a house that was recently cleared out ahead of being put on the market. A man's mother had died, the reports state, leaving her son to clear out pasta from her pantry.
The city says the police department is looking into who is responsible for the pasta dump.