New powder-blue split recycle carts coming your way

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates shows off his new recycling cart outside his home. Photos: Tracey Taylor

A new era in recycling has begun in Berkeley with the introduction of light blue, split carts which carry paper waste in one side and bottles and cans in the other.

Mayor Tom Bates held a press conference outside his home on Ward Street this morning to unveil the new carts which replace the dark blue boxes currently in use. The new carts have already started to appear on curbsides and a total of 36,000 of them will be delivered to Berkeley residents in single family homes over the next month.

Seven new trucks designed to handle the new carts are also now in use — the trucks are also divided into two sections, the larger of which holds paper and cardboard materials.

Berkeley’s recycling program has been managed by the Ecology Center since the early 1970s. Executive Director Martin Bourque said the new carts, which are modeled on those being used in Marin, offered three key advantages: reducing litter, reducing worker injuries and deterring poachers. “With the blue bins which are loaded manually, workers on some routes were having to lift up to 10,000 lbs a day,” he said.

New trucks are handling the new carts

Accessing materials is more difficult than from an open box which might, Bourque said, put off potential poachers. The lid of the new cart is also printed with an advisory that the material contained in the cart is city property. Each compartment of the new carts has double the capacity of the old boxes. The closed carts also keep materials dry.

Mayor Bates said the carts represented a breakthrough. “They are one of the tools we need to be a zero-waste city.”

As part of the city’s Climate Action Plan, Berkeley’s goal is to achieve zero waste by 2020. Waste sent to the landfill decreased 40% between 2000 and 2009, a reduction of more than 47,000 tons of waste.

Multi-family homes will receive two carts, one blue one for bottles and a brown one for paper. Residents who want to keep their old blue boxes may do so, said Bourque, but if they put them out on the curb they will be taken away on garbage collection day.

Berkeley’s recycling program is regarded as one of the most well run in the country. However Bourque had a message for the city’s residents: “We are not trying to make people recycle more, we want them to waste less.”

Visit the Ecology Center for full information on the new carts and curbside recycling questions.

Update, 21.33: Reader Alicia helpfully points to the June 29 recommendation document to Berkeley City Council regarding the purchase agreement and loan agreement relating to the new split recycling carts which shows that the estimated cost of the new carts was $2,507,310.

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  • When these new carts arrive, what will the people do who now rummage though the recycling bins and pull out aluminum cans and bottles?

    They won’t be able to reach all the way down into the cart, and I am sure that some of them will turn the carts upside-down and spill everything out of both sides in order to get the cans and bottles.

    The new carts are great in theory, but no one seems to have thought about this practical problem.

  • laura menard

    Marin and south Berkeley are light years apart. The poachers who take nearly all recyclables in south Berkeley will not be deterred by taller bins. Overburdened taxpayers who have been responsible consumers reducing waste will just have more work to do, sweeping up glass and debris.

    Likely to be less problems if I continue using the old bins and put them out at the time of day when the local fixed income elders routinely collect recyclables.

  • Janet Byron

    The news carts look great to me…

    But when will the city start recycling more types of plastic?

  • CJ Higley

    I can’t imagine this will deter the poachers. Has anyone considered whether the bottle deposit program has reached the end of its useful life in California? Seems to me that recycling — especially of bottles and cans — is second nature to most Californians by now.

  • Mathew Parker

    Can we put Mayor Bates in one of those bins? AS he is about as tired and used up as a 5 year old Odwalla bottle.
    The new bins-are just an obvious show- and -tell piece for raising garbage rates. When these mentally -hardshipped bureaucrats raised rates the first time, everyone downsized their garbage cans and there was a glut of standard garbage bins in the yard. So, how else can they charge us? They get some more fancy plastic bins created in China and charge us 30% more for the same poor service.
    Garbage poachers; Why does the city even recycle anymore. The poachers obviously work harder, longer hours and are just as efficient as the new trucks, overpaid union hacks and bins. They deserve every penny they get and it’s a WASTE product. The city is entitled to pick up what is left, which at 11am is near nothing.

  • That is not actually powder blue. True powder blue is quite dark, and refers to blue glass which was crushed (to a powder) and used in laundering applications.

    The more you know.

  • Nick: I pondered saying “duck egg” blue but that has a greener tone I think.

    While I bow to your superior knowledge on the technical definition of “powder blue”, I think common usage has it as a light blue tone. See, for instance, this image search of “powder blue color:

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  • Alicia

    1. Those carts are darn ugly.
    2. It’s a $2.5 million dollar boondoggle (not including the labor to put them out and maintain them):
    3. Yes, the poachers will be dumping them out.
    4. $2.5 million dollars when a very significant part of the overall recycling take is stolen by poachers just doesn’t seem like the best choice the City could have made in the current economic climate.

  • Jef

    So many haters… so much free time.

  • Lauren

    second worst Berkeley mayor ever (Loni Hancock #1) oh BTW he’s married to
    to Loni Hancock (gotta keep it in the family)

  • elmwood neighbor

    Our cart arrived. We are willing to give a try before deciding if it will work or not. I don’t think it will deter the very hardcore poachers but it won’t be as easy for those who drive down our street each week and quickly grab the items that are just sitting out in the open blue bins.

  • Tim Dewey-Mattia

    Can’t wait to get ours – this will increase recycling rates and keep the streets cleaner.

  • Bryan

    Since coming to Berkeley I always thought the small, open blue bins were strange. Every other city I’ve ever been in has used rolling carts like the new ones, so I’m glad to see the change.

    Really though it’s not going to deter poachers, but I still think the new bins are better for other reasons.

    What I’d like to see is better education about what is and isn’t recyclable. I’d say about 50 to 75% of the stuff I see people putting in their bins is not recyclable. It’s mostly plastics: Berkeley only recycles #1 and #2 plastics, and they also cannot be molded shapes or have wide openings. That means no yogurt cups/tubs, take-out containers, berry baskets, and other packaging, even if they are #1 or #2. Another big one I see are half-gallon containers (for juice or milk) and other aseptic packages which are an un-recyclable mix of paper, plastic, and glue. See the Ecology Center’s site for more info:

  • Bryan

    Oh one other thing: you’re supposed to remove the lids from glass and plastic bottles before recycling them. That’s another big no-no I always see people doing. Lids go in the trash.

  • I look forward to these new bins! In our neighborhood, this should cut down on poaching. If it’s too hard, people will be less likely to do it.

    It’s sad to see so many mean and hateful responses in this forum today.

  • Brian Stegner


    Thanks for the tip to the site with complete info on what goes and what doesn’t. Very handy.

  • Tom

    For those of us with no place to store these carts, now we have THREE on the sidewalk? How long before Berkeley starts ticketing homeowners for cans left out? (google ‘trash ticket oakland’)

    Understood BMC is clear on the issue of blocking the sidewalk, but some older homes (esp in the hills) just don’t have any place to put the cans. Sure, the homeowner could (and arguably has a responsibility to) embark on a construction project to create a place to park them but but often that’s impractical and cost prohibitive (think 100-y.o. retaining walls, building permits, soils engineering which is required by the permit process, zoning approval for construction within the 20′ setback, “landmark” preservation approvals, etc.) This is can easily turn into a $10-20k proposition or more.

    Granted these problems affect a relative minority, but I’m just sayin …

    On the bright side, now the graffiti tagger crews have one more trash can to put their stupid signatures on.

  • Great feedback.
    A few follow ups from the horses mouth (neiggghhhh)…

    Curb Appeal.
    Well you just can not please everyone. Till now, everyone has given positive feedback on this color a lot and it matches the trucks so as to distinguish it from City services, hopefully driving service calls to our hotline rather than 311, so that we can directly help you waste less and recycle more.

    These are the common things people want to recycle but that screw up recycling. Block Stroyfoam, toxic substances, ceramics, non-bottle plastics, food contaminated paper (goes in the green bin), pots and pans, clothes, and much more are real problems for sorting and reselling the materials to be recycled at the high level Berkeley residents expect and demand. The less you put in the better (and cheaper) we can do our job.

    Plastics markets are improving as are China’s infrastructure and labor and environmental practices. Currently, other cities that export #3-7 non-bottle plastics send them to in mixed bales to China, where they are hand sorted on factory floors, washed, and chipped or melted into pellets, then sold into low grade uses in the domestic market there. The contaminated water releases and air emissions of these facilities is uneven and while getting better, still far from US standards. Non-bottle plastics are still very expensive to separate from other materials here and have very low value but very large volume, thus increasing both collection and sorting costs. Ecology Center, City staff, Community Conservation Centers, the Zero Waste Commission and other experts and advocates continue to watch this and will adjust appropriately. Because of the extreme environmental impacts of plastics (deep water drilling to the ocean gyre), lets waste less rather than recycle more plastics.

    Well the carts will make collecting much more efficient. The cost of the carts is spread over at least ten years of service. Far from a boodoggle, they will increase efficiency, reduce injuries, and improve quality of materials. Waste collection and disposal is one of the nations most dangerous job sectors and we expect this will finally eliminate the lifting risks that our drivers are constantly exposed to. Our routes can be up to 10,000 pounds per day. With the increased volume resident do not need to set out every week and we hope that folks will wait till their can is nearly full to set it out increasing efficiency of collection. And finally while the carts will not eliminate poaching they have been proven to reduce it, which will increase the revenues to the city used to offset some of the collection and processing costs. Remember, recycling is much cheaper than wasting but it is still a disposal service that costs money. Historically this has been baked into the refuse rate, but increasingly cities (including Berkeley) are breaking this cost out and making it more visible to residents.

    We all know berkeley has complex and diverse curbsides. We will all have to make some adjustments for the new service. Berkeley Municipal Code is explicit that you are supposed to remove your cart within 24 hours of service, and most folks do. I have never seen anyone in Berkeley get a ticket for leaving their garbage cart at the curb longer, don’t know why that would change with the addition of recycling carts, particularly if there is some compelling reason why it was left.

    Thanks to all the great recyclers out there helping make (and keep) Berkeley a national leader.


  • Rhiannon

    Am I the only one who doesn’t mind the poachers? The ones in my north Berkeley neighborhood aren’t disruptive in any way, and I don’t begrudge them the income stream. Plus they take the stuff that’s actually useful to recyclers and buyers of recycled materials, which means less time, effort, and money wasted by sanitation workers on sorting out the good stuff from all the random stuff people put in the recycling bin because they think they’re being good eco-citizens but don’t understand how recycling actually works.

  • I don’t mind the poachers. I am just saying that the poachers can take things out of the existing bins without creating a mess, but they will not be able take things out of the new bins without creating a mess. The result of the new bins: a messier Berkeley.

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  • Deb

    It seems major stake-holders were left out of this expensive decision–Us.
    Storage is a big issue. Where are we supposed to store these gaudy things? The color does not blend in with anything. Ick. It’s really too bad they aren’t a blend-in sort of color, but then it’s too bad the city didn’t invite the main stake-holders in on this decision.
    Another issue is how heavy will these things be if they are filled with glass?
    Who is going to move them? Whereas previously we had the bins, and everyone took out their own recycling, now there is one BIG ugly cart for glass and another ugly BIG one for paper. No place to store these.
    I wonder if those who made the decision tried to move one of these carts when it was filled with glass?
    Think I’ll just continue to take my recycling out in small bags. If the city chooses not to pick up what is obviously recycling, it can sit on the curb.

  • Elmwood Neighbor

    FWIW: My daughter just called to tell me that someone is going up and down our block knocking over the new bins and dumping stuff on the ground then picking out the good stuff. He is sort of picking stuff up but not sorting and not getting everything that was spilled on the ground.

  • Please report such activities to the Ecology Center Recycling Hotline. We will report to police.

    You should include:
    Description of individual(s)
    Make model and license of vehicle (if any)
    If you can get a photo please email this info along with the photo to


  • Many Berkeley residents have been tolerant of poachers only because it’s not worth the trouble to make a call into the police or to the Ecology Center. The BPD is also tolerant of the poachers because it’s a minor offense, even if it’s annoying.

    If the poachers start overturning cans to get at the recyclables and causing a mess, then neighbors will no longer tolerate the poachers and start calling about the offenders. Dumping is a more serious offense. Maybe the police will start ticketing the poachers now.

    In my experience, and according to most of my friends and neighbors, most poachers aren’t a big problem and don’t leave a big mess. Some poachers in my neighborhood clean up after themselves. (I live near the N. Berkeley BART station)

  • laura menard

    The police will not be able to ticket unless they witness the dumping violation themselves. Unless the city authorizes such. Not likely in a city that does not enforce the no sit/lay ordinance.

    This is the kind of legal problem discussed by SF board of supervisors recently when the Mayor of Santa Cruz explained how to address these contradictions and failures of enforcement.

  • Berkeley Neighbor

    While we appreciate all the funcionality and the value of having visually distinct cans, my wife and I feel that the choice of bright power blue was unfortunate, because they are often visible from the street even when not on the curb. They are the among brightest objects in our otherwise green, flowery and leafy neighborhood, and they are to our sensibilities visually discordant and unattractive. Just walk down the street and see how many pull the eye, even when “put away”.

    With respect to the $2.5M and 36,000 cans, what’s done is done. However, we’re concerned about neighbors leaving them not on the curb, but just inside their lots next to the sidewalk, in plan view to the neighborhood. Is there any regulation that speaks to this?

  • People are complaining about the cost, but as I see it these cans came to be about $72 each, including delivery.

    Study, roll-out recycling cans often cost over $100 each, without delivery (See ). I bought a sturdy, small 36-gallon one from Home Depot 5 years ago for emergency supply storage, and cost about $70. The cheaper ones do not last, are not durable and are hard to lift.

    I’m sure that if I ordered 10,000 of them I could reduce the cost, but you still need to deliver them, which is not cheap or easy.

    We can discuss the value of spending money on recycling given other priorities, but it not a boondoggle.

  • EBGuy

    Is there any regulation that speaks to this?

    Berkeley Municipal Code

    23D.04.060 Screening Required for Garbage Cans and Utility Meters

    All garbage cans must be effectively screened from view from the public right-of-way and surrounding properties. For buildings with two or more units all utility meters must also be effectively screened from view from the public right-of-way and surrounding properties. (Ord. 6854-NS § 1 (part), 2005: Ord. 6478-NS § 4 (part), 1999)

  • Tom

    RE: 23D.04.060 “Screening Required for Garbage Cans and Utility Meters”

    Pretty sure Section 23D as a whole has more to do with new construction than a mandate to retrofit… most likely only an issue if you are getting a plan check or sign off on a building permit.

    That said, 14.48.020 (“Obstructions on streets and sidewalks”) says you can’t block the sidewalk but 12.34.040 (“Garbage containers–Location.”) grants an exception for curbside garbage collection containers with the caveat: “The occupant or his or her agent must remove the curbside cart out of the public right-of-way within twenty-four hours of garbage collection.”

    So what happens when a few militant crabapples start calling the police to report the sidewalks are blocked, and the police start issuing citations with the disclaimer “well, we don’t go looking for the problem but if it’s reported to use we really don’t have any option…”? This is what happened in Oakland.

  • The Proposal Man

    I agree wholeheartedly: These new cans are a fiasco.

    On top of having questionable utility, the new bins are an EYESORE. The color does not blend in with anything. And yes, the garish bins are too big for most people to take off the street… so they are becoming a blight as they are delivered.


    1) Berkeley Recycling needs to adopt the following policy:


    2) Take Tom’s suggestion and call the police to rigorously enforce the 14.48.020.

    3) Take Deb’s idea: use paper bags to put recycling on the street (and have the new bin taken away.)

    Personally, I will NOT be using one of these huge, ugly bins, and I hope others follow. This was a bad idea, poorly implemented…. and without community involvement.

  • Hi Everyone,
    Our first weeks of collection with carts have demonstrated a 20% lift in recycling tonnage! While that is what we predicted we are very pleased to see it cross our scales. We have also had a dramatic reduction in poaching calls. Not that it has been eliminated but the carts have made it harder and slower and therefore more limited.

    A few responses to the comments.

    1) these carts have been part of the public discourse on recycling since 2004. There have been numerous noticed opportunities to weigh in on the program from public workshops to Council items to Zero Waste Commission meetings. If you feel strongly about recycling, consumerism, and waste please come out and participate.

    2) Blue has been the obvious and standard recycling color for over 2 decades. I’m quite sure that no one has ever complained about the dark blue color of the old bins, and yet their color is bolder still. This sky blue is a natural color from the palette of colors found in your neighborhood any day the sun shines. The light blue was selected as opposed to the dark blue to distinguish it from the City’s dark blue commercial carts to avoid confusion for both residents and collection drivers. Change is hard, in a month it will blend right in.

    3) Most residents do remove their bins (and now carts) from the curb with 24 hours per city code. Perhaps a friendly note would encourage those who do not to make the extra effort. They may not know how much it offends.

    4) For residents who literally have no viable location, an exemption to cart service may be offered. This still requires them to remove their bins or boxes from the curb within 24 hours and alone may not resolve your concerns. This is not an optional service, rather an exemption for legitimate logistical reasons not color preference.

    5) Residents have been demanding increased efficiency. There is no question here, but you can not have it both ways. The larger cart means more automation, and less frequent set outs. It is of course larger. Most residents have commented to us that anything would be less visually offending than the open bins and bags out every week.

    6)If you really do not want to use the cart that is always your option. There are numerous drop off sites where you can recycle, or you can pay more for a larger garbage can and just send to the landfill. We hope you wont choose that option and help Berkeley reach its Zero Waste Goals.

    I have to disagree that this program is a bad idea, or poorly implemented, or without community involvement.

  • TN

    Mr. Borque:

    Can you tell us how much of the increase in collection was for the more valuable cans and bottles as versus the less valuable paper products?

    The Ecology Center has had a tendency to report recycling by weight only. But not all recycling is equally valuable either economically or ecologically.

  • Message in a Bottle, Can, Cardboard Box

    I would like to suggest:

    – The mayor and city council members drive through the neighborhoods where the new cans have been distributed and count the number of times they see one of the new blue cans *not* screened from the street. And ask themselves if they are pleased with the visual effect on the neighborhood, and the possible effect on the voters.

    – The chief of police drive through the neighborhoods where the new cans have been distributed and count the number of times he sees the new blue cans *not* screened from view from the street. And ask himself if he is comfortable with the potential number of citations that could be given.

    – Anyone living in a neighborhood where the new cans have not been distributed walk through a neighborhood where the new cans have been distributed, and ask themselves if they want their neighborhoods to look like that. And if they had any say in it. And if they can do anything about it now.

    – The executive decision makers for the choice of the bright powder blue cans:
    1) drive through the neighborhoods where the new cans have been distributed and count the number of times they see the new blue cans *not* screened from the street. And ask themselves:
    a) if their apparent desire to call attention to recycling justifies the impact on Berkeley’s visual aesthetic.
    b) how well graffiti will stand out against the bright powder blue backgrounds
    2) publish the full process by which the color was chosen, indicating how much “test marketing” and neighborhood participation was included in the decision.

    – Everybody think about every possible alternative to barging forward with implementing this appalling impact on the visual aesthetic of the city we all love so dearly.

    Do we really want to look like SmurfVille for the next 10 years?

  • Graham Freeman

    Thank you, Martin and the rest of the Ecology Center folks, for doing a great job. In every community there will be a vocal contingent of people who make mountains out of molehills. Please don’t let them get you down. Many (most?) of us appreciate your work.

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  • JHolland

    I am still frustrated by the additional work required to make these ugly bins work right. I do NOT CARE about the poachers at all – more makes less in this case! Poachers are straw men/women for the proponents of the new recycling rules. Much worse are the arrogant drivers of the trucks who strew up to a third of the material all over our street so I have to pick it all up and return it to the bins when I put them in my car to drive them 500 feet down a steep hill to put them back in place. For the full Tuesday to Sunday night in my neighborhood EVERYBODY”S bins stay at the curb on my 3 block long narrow street. Ugly, an enticement to tip over as we are just off Tunnel Road and without identifying printing so nobody knows which bin belongs to which house. There is always a mad scramble Monday night trying to identify which bins have been moved across or down the street, which bins belong to which house, etc. When neighbors can’t figure it out they just leave the bins until there are only 1 or 2 left by Thursday then take them to their own yards. The work involved in selecting the appropriate material for the bins is three or four times what it has been in the past. Much more material must now go into land fill garbage cans. Our garbage cans are full in 4 days, our new recycle bin is full in 2 to 3 weeks. But we pay and we pay. This appears to be another publicly paid for boondoggle – somebody’s getting rich on our effort to do the right thing and we’re working harder to spend more money to cooperate as good citizens. I’m fed up with this City’s arrogance and misguided ideas for closing the budget gap. Cut back the pensions and the cradle to grave insurance; slice away at the burdensome civic hires who are rude, lazy and unprofessional. Take off some of those paid vacation days. Tell the union to take hike. We are sick of being fooled. Telegraph Avenue is a sewer; Shattuck Avenue is becoming a sewer. We should be ashamed.

  • tracy

    Is it really necessary to sort papers and plastics now? Someone told me they dump them in the truck together, so why would I separate them in the new bins if that’s the case?

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  • Jomo Frodo

    Is anyone having the same problem I am — no one ever took the old bins away. My apartment building has four new plastic bins (two paper and two bottles/cans) but I still have all my old bins as well. Was the city going to come collect all the old bins?

  • Jomo: The City said it would remove the old dark blue bin boxes if they were left out next to the trash on pick-up day. If you’ve tried that and it didn’t work, I suggest you call the city’s refuse and recycling department on (510) 981-7270 and ask them if they can pick them up next time.

  • Mike Farrell

    I like them; well I don’t like the color.
    My bin is 300′ from its collection point so wheeling it every 2 or three weeks is much easier than weekly recycling.
    Additionally we used a larger garbage can than necessary so we could put the recyclables in it to take it to the street; now we can use the very smallest can and pay half as much. Other than the poor color choice, the new cans seem to be working well in my neighborhood.

    BTW when curbside recycling was first begun in Berkeley a private recycler offered the City $10 million for the right to collect recyclables. Instead the Ecology Center was awarded a contract that guaranteed the City would make up any loss. (Just for those who “Don’t care about poachers”)

  • Kathy

    Mike: What can you be talking about? When the Ecology Center started curbside collection in 1973 there was very little money in selling newspaper – the only material we collected in the beginning. There was permission but no contract with the City and certainly no one offering the City money for the materials.

    When we expanded to include glass and cans in 1980 it was with the help of a grant from the State- still no contract with the City although we did get some help with our original cardboard collection bins and publishing our annual calendar of pickups.

    We did get a contract with the City in 1986 after the voters mandated it in the 1984 election. The voters rejected the contract briefly given to a for-profit company backed by a group who wanted to build garbage burning plants in Berkeley. Those garbage burning plants depended on the paper, BTW . The voters instructed the City to contract with the non-profit Ecology Center and Community Conservation Centers at least until a solid waste management plan was in effect.

    Perhaps that is what you are referring to. EWC – the for-profit company – did not bid on the curbside program only buyback, drop-off and processing but IMO only wanted the baler for the paper they bought from other cities – their facility at that time was poorly equipped. They certainly did not offer the City $10M.

    Please do let me know where you got that info.

    I started working in recycling in Berkeley almost 40 years ago and I must say I am pleased to see how the curbside program has progressed – neighborhoods with recycling carts bigger than garbage cans is outstanding and quite beautiful to me!