City

City’s new recycling carts met with mixed reception

Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center with a Berkeley recycling truck. Photo: Tracey Taylor

Our story on Tuesday about Berkeley’s new split recycling carts, which are being rolled out over the next few weeks by the Ecology Center, triggered a significant number of reader comments, not all of them positive. Here, in a nutshell, were reactions from Berkeleysiders:

Poachers The new carts will not deter poachers — and the result will be messier than now because carts might be overturned or materials strewn over the sidewalks and streets. At least one reader doesn’t object to poachers.

Expense The new carts are an excuse to charge more for recycling services.

Approval Several readers liked the look of the carts and were looking forward to trying them out.


Education A few commenters would like to see more widely disseminated information about what is and isn’t recyclable.

Space One or two hill-living readers were concerned about not having enough room to put three carts curbside.

Fortunately for us, Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center, weighed in to address some of our readers’ concerns. Here is what he said:

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 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.

Prohibitives:
These are the common things people want to recycle but that screw up recycling: block styrofoam, 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:
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.

Efficiency:
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 boondoggle, 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 lbs 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.

Location:
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,and I 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.