Berkeley meets recycling goals, beats Piedmont

Green waste — here being dumped at a Central Valley sorting site — is collected weekly in Berkeley. Photo: Sean Gin

Berkeley residents are some of the best recyclers in Alameda County, according to a new report by The report covers the years 1995-2010 and shows that Berkeleyans divert 76% of their waste away from landfills and towards recycling, composting and re-use.

“The City Council set a goal of 75% diversion by 2010, and our community has met that challenge,” said Interim City Manager Christine Daniel. “The City has steadily expanded our recycling programs since 1995, and Berkeley residents have taken full advantage of them.”

Albany was the top scorer in the county with an 83% diversion rate in 2010, and Berkeley was also beaten by Emeryville and Union City which both achieved 77%. Piedmont came in bottom with a lowly 59%, while Oakland scores a more respectable 65%.

Some of Berkeley’s recycling programs which contributed to its high score include:

  • The increased recycling of organics, like yard debris and food waste, made easier by weekly green-waste collection.
  • More customer education, which supports residents’ interest in recycling
  • The introduction and use of larger, split-cart recycling containers (although it should be noted that not all Berkeleyans greeted these with enthusiasm when they first appeared curbside in October 2010).

“The next big recycling challenge is multi-family housing,” said Ken Etherington, the city’s Solid Waste Division Manager. “We know that residents in apartments and condominiums want to recycle more, and we are working with building owners and managers on how to do that.”

Residents who want to learn more about how to improve their own diversion rates can visit the recycling information page of the city’s website. View’s Waste Diversion Rates for Alameda County Jurisdictions report.

Where does Berkeley’s green waste go? [06.23.11]
City considers ending its 40-year ties with Ecology Center [03.08.11]
Berkeley’s new recycling carts: how’s it going so far? [10.27.10]
City’s new recycling carts met with mixed reception [10.15.10]
New powder-blue split recycling carts coming your way [10.12.10]

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  • Compostgrrl

    Now if all the stores would start stocking compostable plastic bags, like those already in use by The Natural Grocery Company (and which perfectly fit Berkeley’s small green bins for kitchen waste), our compost wouldn’t come back to us full of plastic!

  • Anonymous

    Does this figure include the university?

    Earlier articles have indicated that the university’s behavior has been totally irresponsible vis-a-vis recycling. There are no compost bins for food waste and even the recycling bins for glass are just discarded if homeless people don’t scavenge through them.

  • AdamMerberg

    The university actually typically reports a very high diversion rate. The reason for this, I’m told, is that the university’s diversion rate includes all of the material from old buildings that they’ve torn down, which is apparently relatively easy to recycle. (I wonder if there’s something similar that could be going on with the figures for cities.)

  • The Sharkey

    YAY! Hopefully we can do even better next year!

    I really wish Berkeley’s recycling system would take more than just plastics #1 and #2. A lot of plastic that I could be recycling if I lived in San Francisco ends up going in the garbage. I bet if they started accepting more varieties of plastic for recycling we could beat Emeryville and Union City without breaking a sweat.  :-)

  • The Sharkey

    Huh, I’ve never used bags for my compostables…

    I just keep mine in an air-tight container (not the one provided by the city) when it’s in the house, and then dump it directly into the green bin. Is that bad?

  • EBGuy

    Brace yourself…

  • britInBerkeley

    Just because cities take all kinds of plastic doesn’t mean they actually recycle them.  Do you know how SF or Oakland process other kinds of plastics?

  • The Sharkey

     Nope. I don’t know how Albany processes their other plastics either, but they take #1 through #7.

  • The Sharkey

    Good thing I didn’t mention how I’d like the recycling containers to be lockable, so we could thwart the “trash trolls” who steal all the plastics and metals that the Ecology Center could make real money from.

  • Meliflaw

    I don’t know whether it’s bad, but I think it’s what a lot of people end up doing, since even with the compostable bags, those big bins start stinking a bit. I toss my scraps into a cut-down brown paper shopping bag in the freezer, then dump the whole thing in the green bin on pick-up day. Keeps the smell out of the house.

  • Meliflaw

    76% is not bad. I remember friends’ and relatives’ reactions to the idea of collecting newspapers and stuff, and then driving them to a recycling center. This was 30-something years ago in Los Angeles, and the whole practice was considered well-intentioned, but kind of–weird. And only real cranks reused plastic bags!

  • The Sharkey

    Fair enough. I guess the stink never really bothered me all that much.
    It’s part and parcel of the composting process, and I keep my curbside
    bins in a sideyard area I rarely use so that I don’t notice the smell
    except when I’m putting things in the bin.

  • britInBerkeley

    I use a quart yogurt container for kitchen scraps.  I line it with a  compostable bag.  When that’s full I take it out to the green bin.  That works better for me than the green bin on the counter.

  • britInBerkeley

    Yes, that’s interesting.  I read it when it came out.  

    I’m not sure that sending plastic that we can’t handle to China is such a good thing.  Especially if even in China they can’t reprocess it.  (See comment to the article)

  • Meliflaw

    The mini-green bins are so charming, though. They work well under the sink for things like waxed milk and ice cream cartons.

  • SarahSiddell

    This is one of those stories that cries out for  a competent reporter to ask tough questions about the claim that Berkeley residents recycle 75 per cent of their waste. How, for example, do officials KNOW this “fact”?

     Since they obviously can’t know what Berkeleyans own or are buying in terms of items such as plastics that can’t be recycled today, how in the world can they tell that 75 percent is being kept out of the waste stream??

    Do they analyze garbage to see what is not being recycled?Do they measure the amount of garbage and compare that figure to the amount of recycled goods? Do they check to see how much trash is taken to local landfills by individual Berkeley residents?

    Without more information, this 75 per cent is a meaningless (and very suspicious) figure considering the torrent of the kinds of plastics that aren’t recycled (most of them) and the things like the appliances, old furniture and mattresses that students throw away when they leave the university each year.

    OK,Berkeleyside, how about some follow-up questions, especially when city officials assert “facts” that make them look good?!  We got much too much “press release journalism” in this country already!

  • Akkizza

    Actually, most of the things you mention are tracked and logged. Every trip to the transfer station goes on a scale.The recycling and compost tonnages are logged for every truck, every day. The old sofas and whatnot left by college students still go to the transfer station, where they are weighed and then dumped. 

    The only parts of the waste stream that aren’t traced or quantified are: when you get rid of old appliances, clothes, furniture, etc. by selling them on craigslist or yardsale giving them to Goodwill, Urban Ore, etc. And many of the recyclables taken by poachers are driven to other transfer stations not in Berkeley, so those quantities aren’t being tracked.

  • Plastic

     A new video just came out about plastics recycling across the country: