The New Jersey Environmental Crisis: Finding Sustainable Solutions Through Circular Economy

In 2019, a report found more than 270 harmful contaminants in local drinking water across the USA, including Jersey City.

In New Jersey City, chromium – a chemical compound known to cause cancer – has been discovered in amounts 2.3 times more than the suggested Environmental Working Group’s guidelines.

Due to the many sewer system overflows and previous toxic waste dumps in New Jersey City, water pollution stands as one of the top environmental issues within the city. In spite of these alarming issues, New Jersey City continues to attract tourists each year because of its famous historical sites.


Liberty Island National Park in New Jersey City is a popular tourist attraction (National Park Service)

Home to a population of nearly 300,000 people, New Jersey City is the second most populated city in New Jersey. However, increasing property taxes and pollution are posing a challenge to the people of New Jersey City.


Each year, New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation property taxes hit new heights.

  • In 2018, a reevaluation of property values led to over a hundred percent increase in property taxes in New Jersey City, including a 155% increase in property taxes for one home.
  • In 2019, the average tax bill in New Jersey climbed to $8,953, which was significantly higher than the average property tax bill of $3,498 in the US.

Average increase of property taxes in New Jersey from 2018 to 2019 (NJ Spotlight)

  • With a property tax rate of 1.48%, New Jersey City continues to charge higher property tax rates to homeowners than that of the average property tax rate of 1.1% across the nation.

A reason for unusually high property taxes within New Jersey is because of the lack of local income taxes and sales tax. Thus, property taxes in New Jersey virtually pay for everything including expensive education costs and government and county expenses. As education, government, and county expenses increase, property taxes soar even higher.


New Jersey’s air continues to be among the most polluted in the nation, with a large swath of the state receiving failing grades for smog


Air Pollution in New Jersey City is causing a major health concern (Bergen Record)

  • In 2016, a report discovered that nearly every area in New Jersey experienced an average of approximately 91 days of elevated amounts of smog and particulate pollution.

Hudson County, which includes New Jersey City, received a Weighted Average (Wgt.Avg) grade of 5.0 for air pollution, which was significantly higher than 3.3, the grade for a F. Thus, air pollution within New Jersey city is a continuous threat to the safety and well-being of the citizens.


The past few years, concern for water quality in New Jersey City has largely arisen due to reports of contamination present within the drinking water, threatening the safety of the residents.

  • Chromium, a chemical compound known to cause cancer, was discovered at a rate of 0.0468 parts per billion in New Jersey City’s utility, which was 2.3 times the health guidelines set by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) of 0.02 parts per billion.

Contaminated drinking water found throughout the country (Shutterstock)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advises an enforceable safety limit for exposure in water as 100 ppb—well above the levels measured in Jersey City’s tap water.

Not only has dangerous levels of chromium threatened the safety of the citizens of New Jersey City, but also other toxic contaminants including lead and disinfection byproducts, which can potentially lead to cancer and other diseases.

  • Water pollution from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO) has also negatively affected the marine ecosystem. New Jersey has a total of 217 of CSOs where raw sewage is discharged into waterways.
  • An estimate of $2 billion to $9.3 billion is needed to fix the current CSO system problems in New Jersey

Because of these facts, many people are hesitant to drink New Jersey City tap water before taking the necessary precautions. To combat these environmental issues, New Jersey City authorities have taken several actions to improve the current situation.


  • In 2009, authorities from the New Jersey City port developed a Clean Air Strategy to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions by the New Jersey and New York ports as cargo volume increases. 
  • From 2009 to 2018, the Clean Air Strategy managed to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 97%, particulate matter by 75%, nitrogen oxides by 40%, volatile organic compounds by 37%, and carbon monoxide by 30%. 
  • The New Jersey Water Bank (NJWB) provides low cost state funds and loans for the implementation of water infrastructure projects. From its first loan in 1987, NJWB has funded approximately 1,350 loans equaling nearly 7 billion dollars.

North Hudson, New Jersey SA Adams Street WWTP Phase 2 Improvements funded by The New Jersey Water Bank (NJWB)

  • In 2019, the Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act passed by the House of Representatives allowed for New Jersey to extract a one-time transfer of up to $100 million of federal funds to combat the crisis of contaminated water.
  • Just this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded New Jersey with $84 million for Water Infrastructure Improvements that reduce and eliminate contaminants present within the drinking water.
  • In 2019, the Sustainable STEAM Challenge in New Jersey City offered students an opportunity to present innovative solutions to sustainability-related issues in their neighborhoods. The STEAM Challenge successfully spread environmental education throughout the community.

In spite of these initiatives, the residents of New Jersey City continue to suffer from contaminants present within the air and the water. Thus, circular economy solutions are necessary for solving these environmental problems.


A circular economy is a closed loop system where goods and materials retain their maximum value through respecting and restoring the environment by reducing waste, reusing goods, and recycling materials that cannot be reused.


A Circular Economy Model (BNP Paribas Asset)

Unlike our current linear system of “take-make-dispose,” which generates tons of waste, a circular economy seeks to regenerate energy by extracting value from waste.

Establishing a circular economy can increase jobs in the renewable energy and recycling sectors, possibly alleviating the high property taxes for many medium and lower class citizens while also creating a cleaner and more sustainable environment.


Everyday, thousands of cars in New Jersey City contribute to air pollution and climate change. To reduce the effects of air pollution, a more extensive circular economy approach should be taken.

  • Encouraging public transportation and other modes of transportation (biking, walking, carpooling) to not only reduce gas emissions, but also improve health
  • Utilizing clean renewables sources for power plants and vehicles instead of fossil fuels to further reduce gas emissions
  • Installing catalytic converters on cars to convert toxic gases into less-toxic pollutants

The effectiveness of catalytic converters on reducing gas emissions (SlidesShare)



The extent of lead pipes in New Jersey causing water pollution (

  • Establishing a safer piping system by replacing old lead pipes with new iron pipes to reduce lead contamination within the water.
  • Raising environmental awareness of water pollution by hosting fairs and events to the public
  • Reducing contamination within drinking water by utilizing carbon filters 
  • Boiling water before drinking to eliminate majority of contaminants
  • Setting strict guidelines that require industries who dump toxic waste into rivers to reduce the amount they dump by a certain percentage. Violation of these guidelines should result in huge fines and further consequences.
  • Employing citizens or students to track levels of dangerous bacteria in drinking water as part of a Citizen Science project to collect information regarding contaminants present within the drinking water in order to better combat the situation


The Earth5R team raised awareness of effective circular economy solutions through the Powai Lake Cleanup and Recycling of Waste in Mumbai, India. Previously, the lake supplied drinking water for many people in Mumbai, India, however, due to severe water degradation, the water within the lake is now declared unfit to drink.


Earth5R volunteers picking up trash and litter by Powai Lake (Earth5R)

The goal of the cleanup was to not only reduce pollution within the Powai Lake, but also study the litter that reached the lake from various sources.

As a result, Earth5R volunteers cleaned up a stretch of the lake and conducted a systematic segregation of trash. They found a number of waste and litter that contained a negative effect on both the land and marine environment. Most of this waste was dumped by the locals.

The recyclable plastic collected and segregated from the site was donated to the rag pickers for recycling, generating an income for them.


Earth5R team picking up litter near the Powai River in India (Earth5R)

To create a larger impact by reducing the harm done to the ecosystem from waste, the Earth5R team conducted this cleanup every Saturday and from this activity, environmental, social, and economic benefits emerged:

Environmental: Less plastic waste in Powai Lake

Social: More locals were educated on the 5Rs (Respect, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Restore) and the importance of recycling waste by participation in the cleanup

Economic: Creating a possible source of income for the rag-pickers from recycling the waste


Earth5R team at Mumbai, India participates in the Powai River Cleanup and segregates the trash collected (Earth5R)

With this circular economy model, more people are able to join in the efforts towards a sustainable zero waste future.

Thus, a circular economy can be beneficial to the environment for not only India but also in all parts of the world including New Jersey City.

Reach out to Earth5R to know more about solving environmental issues by creating a circular economy based sustainability project.


Earth5R is an environmental organization from India with its head office at Mumbai. It works with the NGO sector, Companies and helps them conduct environmental corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs across India. Earth5R specializes in circular economy based projects. Earth5R also offers short term and long term environmental courses.

Earth5R’s Global Sustainability Hub is a cross-sector and cross-country collaboration in pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is an excellent opportunity for governments and the private sector to engage with communities, use Sustainability-based models to drive economic changes, and create social and environmental impact.

Reported by Claire Hsu, edited by Riya Dani

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