New waste bin pick-up plans: Impossible in Berkeley?

Berkeley has begun to use automated single-operator garbage trucks that have a side-arm to pick up waste bins. Photo: City of Berkeley

A recent city announcement about a new approach to waste pick-up in Berkeley has left some readers perplexed and concerned.

The city has begun using automated one-person trucks to collect waste bins using a mechanical side-arm; in the past the trucks needed a second body in the rigs to pick up the bins. The city has said the new trucks will increase efficiency, but a number of readers have questioned the logistics of the new procedures.

As outlined in the brochure below, bins should be set one foot apart — in the gutter or driveway, with wheels against the curb — three feet from parked cars. On street cleaning days, or when the previously noted placement is otherwise impossible, bins can be set in the ‘parking strip’ between the sidewalk and gutter.

Wrote one outraged reader: “Do the people who came up with the new ‘Cart Set-Out Requirements’ actually live in Berkeley??!! In what neighborhoods do households have a whole empty car length in front of their houses that can be used for parking trash cans??!! …. Cars are parked so tightly on our block that the best we can do is try to leave a couple of  ‘holes’ between cars large enough for the trash men to take the carts through to the street.”

Wrote another: “We received postcards in the mail today outlining (impossible) requirements for setting out waste carts (Berkeley Municipal Code section 12.34.020). All three carts must be set in the street against a curb or drive, 3 feet away from any vehicles and 1 foot between carts. I doubt that there is a single block within a one mile radius that can comply with this requirement.”

Readers complained that the new rules would be a better fit for suburbs with driveways and garages, and that the recent city postcards about the new rules were “a total waste of postage, printing and time — a.k.a., money — when Berkeley cannot afford it.”

One side of a flier about the new rules. [Click to view larger]

Ken Etherington, Solid Waste division manager in Berkeley’s Public Works department, said the city is working to help people who live in neighborhoods with conditions that make the new collection protocols problematic.

Some residents, for example, don’t have curbs, while others don’t have driveways.

“Those are the situations where we ask you to contact us,” he said. “We’ll look at the situation, and say, ‘Can you put ’em here or here?’ We recognize that this city has a lot of different pockets.”

The best way to reach the city is by calling 3-1-1 with questions, he added.

Etherington said green waste collection using automated trucks started in August, and garbage pick-up with the new trucks began in October; the city sent out the flier in November to ensure that neighbors know the drill.

The goal with the new trucks is to help control operating costs, he said, which have faced ongoing increases.

These operating costs can affect rates for pick-up services. Berkeley’s rate for a 32-gallon bin ($28.93) is still lower than rates in surrounding cities ($38.10 in El Cerrito, and about $36 in Albany). Said Etherington: “The city’s interest in using technology is to control costs.”

The conversation about the new trucks, which already are in use in places like Oakland, Emeryville, Albany and El Cerrito, started about two years ago, said Etherington. The city hired a consultant who looked at Berkeley’s solid waste services to find opportunities to increase efficiency. One of the recommendations was to use the automated trucks; the recommendation went to the City Council, and the council approved it.

Etherington said there will continue to be “select locations” where the driver has to get out and get the bin: “It’s not ‘one process fits all’, but it does fit the majority.”

So far the transition has been “very smooth,” he said, adding that customers have been working with his division in challenging areas, and that drivers like the equipment. He said he’s heard that some customers even go outside their houses just to watch the truck arm work.

“It’s a change and we don’t expect the change to happen overnight,” he said. “But I think it’s a good direction.”

Some residents have expressed concerns recently about automated waste collection trucks that have started operating in Berkeley. This is one side of a city flier about the new rules

If something around town has you mystified, write to Berkeleyside at (subject line: “Ask Berkeleyside”) and we’ll do our best to track down an answer.

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  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Berkeley people are afraid of change!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    instead of a robotic arm operated by one person eliminating 1/2 the jobs

  • guest

    Not the ones who break into our cars at night and take ours. Maybe they don’t live here?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    which is ironic, since that would mean that we’re quite conservative, despite insisting on calling ourselves “progressive.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    You are falling into what economists call the “lump-of-labor fallacy” – the idea that increasing productivity creates unemployment.

    Basic economics tells us that increased productivity per worker hour does not increase unemployment in the long run and is necessary to support higher wages.

    In 1900, the average American worker produced about one-tenth as much per hour as the average American worker today, and the average income was near what we now define as the poverty level.

    We have increased productivity ten-fold since then, and it has given us much higher wages without increasing unemployment.

  • Ann

    The Ecology Center lost a lot of money to those who poach what is to be recycled. That is why we now have to pay for recycling services.

  • Howie Mencken

    “What would the City Auditor say if approached about this?…”

    “You want me to rock the boat? Get real Baby! I gotta live with these guys. Besides, what in it for me, I make the same bucks either way?”

    More importantly, I think Bates might be agreeable a real tooth-filled outside audit. Kamalrz delivered the votes by shadow boxing with the unions. So efficiency wasn’t a real concern. Now he’s not going to need votes anymore. So he and the council members who are feeing the heat might just authorize one. Sort of Bates’ grown-up parting gift to us taxpayers.

  • EBGuy

    A bit more info. Refuse rates were raised on June 26, 2012. Note that this Consent Calendar item says However, even with this infusion of new revenue, the [Refuse] fund is projected to require a loan in FY 2013 to cover the funding shortfall for the 1-time purchase of new collection vehicles required to implement 1-person collection routes.
    PDF Alert:

  • West Berkeley Neighbor

    I appreciate the spirit of your recommendation, but the fact is that there really isn’t an alternative. The front yard is short (significantly shorter than current code dictates), and sloped, making storage there impossible. The slope and the proximity of the driveway to the neighbor’s landscaping means there is no route around the car in the driveway. There are a couple of feet of land on the non-driveway side of the house (again, much less room from house to property boundary than is currently allowable) that could be used, but access to that is through my neighbor’s driveway, so we’re back at square one. Most houses on my block, and to a large extent my neighborhood, are in the same boat.

  • The Sharkey

    Wow, my condolences on your awkward situation. I’m lucky enough that I have just enough space on the non-driveway side for me to build a little fenced area that I keep the bins in. It’s a pain when I want to empty the trash inside the house, but it ended up being easier than trying to wrestle them around my car in the driveway.

    Funny how so much of Berkeley’s code doesn’t reflect the reality of the houses in our City. If I tried to build a new construction version of the house I have now on the lot I have now, I’d have to get dozens of variances and probably be stuck in the planning cycle for years before I could even start.

  • Mbfarrel

    You just figured that out??

  • PragmaticProgressive

    It’s a tough/complicated case is just a local idiom. It means, I cannot refute your argument but will pretend that I did and carry on accordingly.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Yes, I want the police to enforce these laws.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    These things occasionally bear repetition.

  • Howie Mencken

    (in Peter Finch voice) I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!

  • guest

    Good one. I am absolutely certain that will result in the program being canceled immediately.

  • Does this mean that the drivers who pick up our trash in Elmwood will have more time to smoke and hock lugies in my bushes as they have been doing for months?

  • DelawareSt

    I’ve often wondered that as well. Hard to believe that three trucks driving the exact same route is more efficient (and/or lower carbon) than one truck.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Why do we have city employees for trash pick up at all? Has Berkeley ever evaluated the potential for better service / lower cost through outsourcing?

    I see that Piedmont outsources garbage collection. Their standard service is backyard pickup — the guy come to your backyard to collect the bins and returns them there after collection. Besides being more convenient for the homeowner, it reduces the scavenging problem, a lot.

  • Howie Mencken

    Then the give the credit to some one else, cuz I’m just doin what right for the peeple.

  • Guest

    Considering the unhealthy and toxic stuff they deal with on a daily basis, I think they deserve a decent salary. People throw all sorts of crap into the trash, and the amount of dust, old construction materials with lead/asbestos, mold, liquids, fumes all mixed together has got to be hard on their health.

  • That’s why I insist on going to a metal smith to get any replacement parts for my car. It might take a little longer, but it keeps someone employed at the hammer and anvil. Now if I can just find a plastic smith, I can replace a broken appliance in my house.

  • Your car doesn’t get used all day, 5 days a week, dummy.

  • 35yearsonEllisStreet

    I had to argue with a woman moving our cans this morning because it was limited parking since today is the first Wednesday of the month and there was street cleaning across the street. We are also limited to parking between being a half a block from Bart and one block from Malcolm X school which means we have parents and teachers trying to park! This system works in Fairfield where my daughter lives but it is not going to work in Berkeley!

  • Completely_Serious

    I have asked repeatedly, what does the City Auditor do? What results has she delivered? Maybe I will run for City Auditor in 2014 and take over. Oh, wait, no room for new comers in city politics, because,

    Berkeley, the most nostalgic place on earth.

  • Name

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned the problem when trash pick-up and street sweeping land on the same day. The parking attendant, I asked, from BPD had no idea how they would deal with bins.

  • Howie Mencken

    That’s a great idea!

  • Howie Mencken

    It’s not what they make, it’s what they cost: $65k x 2

  • Howie Mencken

    That’s ‘cuz we’re twice as smart!

  • Neighbor

    Except here we have proof that 1/2 the jobs have been eliminated.
    That’s the problem with “economics”: sometimes it fails to have anything to do with “reality”.

  • You are assuming that they are 1 foot wide, based on the width of the cans themselves which are ~23″ wide, The space looks like to be at least 1.5′ between each can. making the space to the car at least 3′

  • BerkeleyWit

    The new system worked great for the green bins in front of my driveway last week. The single operator didn’t even have to get out of the truck.

  • MarkH2

    I agree with your remark, PP. It’s not a complicated case. But it’s a case of limited resources and priorities. I’d rather see BPD focus on violent crime and speeders who put the lives of pedestrians, including kids, at risk.

  • jdh

    I drove a recycling truck for the Ecology Center in Berkeley in the 1980s. We picked up only glass bottles, cans, and newspapers back then. There was a poacher who had a small flatbed truck and who poached our newspaper, the most valuable recyclable commodity at the time. We finally got the cops to arrest him and impound his truck temporarily, and that stopped him and the vast majority of paper poaching.

    Poaching is indeed a major financial problem regarding recycling pickup. However, with the current situation of many poachers and the fact that they are not driving motor vehicles, it might not be logistically feasible, or even possible, to do anything about this. The root of the problem is that we have a society with people so poor that they have to resort to poaching recycling just to eat. There’s no excuse for that in a country with so much wealth.

  • Bancroft Way resident

    “It’s a change and we don’t expect the change to happen overnight,” he said. “But I think it’s a good direction.” You mean the direction of increasing unemployment in Berkeley?

  • Bancroft Way resident

    “Poacher”? No, “thief”. They are stealing what Berkeley residents own but are donating to the recycling center. These items are the property of the resident until the recycling center places them in the truck.The little old lady who has stolen all the most valuable recyclables for years in my 1400 block of Bancroft (and for several blocks around) has no car, but her accomplice does, and that younger man regularly relieves her of her load so she can continue their thievery. It is simple theft–why not prosecute it as such? A little jail time might do wonders.