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.

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • DW

    I saw this postcard a couple of weeks ago. No way I can block the street, but since the lower left pictures pretty much shows what I’ve always done, it is not a problem.

  • DH

    I live on the Arlington. My block is always parked solid with cars. Where are we supposed to go if the nine houses on my block all take up a parking space each with trash, recycling and green waste bins? The only way I get a parking space now is to park in front of my own driveway, so putting the bins in the front of the driveway isn’t an option, besides the driveway is so narrow I couldn’t meet the spacing requirements of keeping 3 feet away from parked cars with 1 foot between each bin.

  • Guest

    I wonder how much these trucks weigh compared to Berkeley’s other refuse collection trucks. In Albany, there are many holes in the road. Heavy garbage trucks are very destructive to the streets — they are the heaviest vehicles that use residential roads.

  • panoramic

    I bet less than 20% of Berkeley can comply with this plan!

  • Bill N

    I bet you’re right. Even down on our street in the flats it was really tight for some houses and some didn’t do it at all because of cars. Of course the salary savings could be substantial but I wonder how many homes have to do this to realize any real savings.

  • resident

    Does “never block the sidewalk with carts” also apply to the trash collectors? They leave our bins in the sidewalk after empying them every week.

  • Deepest Bancroft

    On my block in West Berkeley, the waste bins literally always have to be put up on the sidewalk due to there being so many cars in the neighborhood. Good thing there’s no punishment for not complying with these stupid rules, right? Or are you going to start giving me more wholly unjust parking tickets?

  • Linda

    Thank You Berkeleyside for writing about this! I was also taken aback by the postcard I received. Whoever came up with this plan did not consider it’s practicalities. I tried writing my council member, Linda Maio and received a canned response that did not even specifically address the issue I mentioned, which was that this would effectively make residential parking impossible on streets during their trash day. When I asked her aide again to address my concern, I received a reply that indicated that the parking plan provided “options”. Ha! OK. So my option, as I see it looks like this. I want to park my car on a residential street. I have my 5 month old and three year old in the back. I’m going to stop my car in the street, put on the blinkers, walk on over to someone elses bins, probably in the rain, and lift them up onto the sidewalk so I can park. Really?! As a homeowner, property tax payer, and the one who pays the garbage bill I know we need to cut costs. But this is NOT the answer. And, by the way, doesn’t the planning department have to approve something like this? If you want to take parking away to operate a “parklet”, or park a big moving truck, or whatever, there are permits involved. How is it that this department was able to unilaterally do this without any oversight or public comment?

  • Carleton Street

    Where do our city council members live that they thought this would work when they approved it? I can only imagine how the college kids in my neighborhood would register their displeasure for me taking up a coveted parking spot with my garbage cans.

  • We have had no issue putting our can out. We generally just use the few feet on each side of our driveway, doesn’t really take up a full parking space and we can still get in and out. I can under stand that there might be trouble in some neighborhoods, but I glad that the city is looking for ways to keep costs down and I think this might work better than many people seem to think.

  • EBGuy

    for those who are curious, one year ago the council approved the purchase of automated, drop-frame, side-loader refuse
    trucks at a total cost of around $3.6 million to replace worn-out
    equipment and reduce maintenance costs. The funds for the purchase will
    come from the city’s Equipment Replacement Fund Budget and the Refuse
    Courtesy of

  • Shannon A.

    I find it interesting that even in their example pictures of Required Placements they couldn’t place the cans 3 feet away from cars.

  • guest

    “…with wheels against the curb…”

    Oh goody. Surely this is the City’s way of telling us we are getting sidewalks!

  • EBGuy

    For the curious, solid waste truck drivers start at $65k per year.

  • That looks pretty close to 3 feet away to me.

  • West Berkeley Neighbor

    I have to add my whinge to this. The only way for a car-owning household in much of Berkeley to comply is to pull out of one’s driveway or away from the curb, leave the car in the street blocking traffic, pull the bins out and to the curb, and then get back in the car and re-park in the driveway, or if there is room, at the curb. Then upon returning, do the same in reverse. Every car-using household in Berkeley, therefore, is blocking the road twice a day on garbage days.

    Also, the claim that Oakland is doing this is misleading. There may well be small areas of Oakland that use this, but the lion’s share, the vast majority of the City, does not use this system. The City of Oakland considered and rejected this approach.


    This is probably designed by the same guy that does traffic engineering! I think it’s a result of “insourcing” labor from overseas. Somebody sure likes to dream.

  • andystac

    “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 “so you don’t see price increases like you do in surrounding cities.””

    um, I’ll let this tidbit speak for itself.

  • joekewe

    Sorry to be so cold, but if Berkeley started arresting the dozens of people I see stealing recycling around the city every morning, then we might be able to afford two drivers per garbage truck. I usually ignore the folks with shopping carts, but I photograph and email Berkeley PD for scavengers in cars. Considering I have reported some folks for weeks, Berkeley PD doesn’t seem to care.

  • Peter

    I love that they want us to call 311 to complain about an unworkable process.

  • Howie Mencken

    Something stinks here. And it’s not just the garbage. I’d love to see a Non-Obvious Relationship Analysis (NORA) on these purchase and consulting contracts, including city staff and council members.

  • Margot Smith

    The failure of this was totally predictable. Imagine asking 100,000 people to put their cans 1′ apart, and use up the parking spaces in front of their homes. Whomever thought this up should have their head examined.

  • stuckinthemiddle

    I tried this for the first time this morning and in order not to block my own driveway I did have to take up a parking space outside (we live in a co-housing duplex and have 5 cans between the households). It was only after we left the house that I remember the wheels were supposed to be on the curb. I’ll get it next time. But then my son reminded me about 1 foot between them as well which would stretch in front of the neighbors. Is the the “savings” of having one less person on the truck more than the cost of the new trucks over time?

  • anne

    I had a good laugh about this when the postcard arrived at our house. We and our neighbors did our best to follow the new rules, which resulted in bins taking up most of the parking spaces on our side of the street. My husband and 3-year-old daughter watched the trash collector as he tried to pick up our bins and the automated arm ended up knocking two of them over as it reached for the middle one. The driver had to get out and pick them up, and gestured to my husband to space them out further (further than the 1 foot indicated on the mailer).

    Living very close to a retail area, our street parking spaces are usually packed during the day but I guess shoppers will just have to deal with not having parking one day a week, in addition to the monthly street cleaning day. I work in a different retail area & rely on street parking when I drive to work, so it was pretty frustrating to me personally to arrive and find most of the already-limited spots blocked by bins.

  • Completely_Serious

    Doesn’t Kriss live in El Sobrante?

    Even if he lived in his alleged District 7 address, it’s a condo building. Multi-family homes have different trash pick up days and different bins. So it’s not like it would affect him. Or Jesse. I don’t know about the rest of the nincompoops.

  • Completely_Serious

    Obviously, the DPW people don’t live in Berkeley, and don’t read Berkeleyside. Otherwise, they would know this plan is set for failure from the start. Berkeleyites will continue to put their trash containers exactly where they’ve been putting them for years. Why? You know why


  • TN

    I’m glad to see the public works department trying out new technologies to improve efficiency. Even if it is not practical for every household to carry out the procedure, it will still result in more efficient pick ups if enough households can do it.

    However I still wonder why we need 3 large trucks to come by our homes every week to pick up our various waste streams. Before recycling, there was only one truck per week. Of course we want to use our resources including waste to our best advantage. This means sorting and recycling our waste. But I wonder if we need so many different trucks for pick up every week.

  • WFA67

    I live on Milvia along a bikeway. A couple of weeks ago the refuse guy left a cart in the gutter. That night, a bicyclist ran into it in the dark. (Some of these guys leave carts scattered around, with lids left flung open. An uglier display than before they arrive.)

  • Nomdeplume

    The other day i was visiting a friend in another neighborhood, & found all of the available parking spaces taken up with trash cans! I had to double park, get out in the rain & move someone’s trash cans before I could park. & what is up with the trash guys leaving the lids open, in the rain, to collect water??

  • Ann

    Curb? Not here? Traveled street is 11 feet wide. Sidewalk? None.

  • 3rdgenberkeleyan

    What happened to the other half of the workforce? did they fire the other guys? who’s idea was this sounds like a republicans idea not our liberal leaders i thought this was a union town. what happened to the good old days when the garbage men went to your back yard and got the garbage cans emptied them and brought them back? those guys made much less (inflation adjusted) than these guys and worked their butts off. these guys might as well be robots so much for creating jobs…this doesn’t sound like the obama way! or is it?

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan


  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I think i will just leave the effin cans in the street all week that way i wont have people taking up two spots in front of my house

  • guest

    Most college-educated people start at less.

  • fact

    High paid, low skilled union workers are usually just lazy.

  • Name

    Look again. If those bins are 1′ apart, then they are no more than 1.5′ – 2′ away from those cars.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I agree if they are spaced 1′ apart then they are double that from the car which would be 2′ not the required “at least 3 feet” …only in berkeley would we send out a brochure stating the new rules with the picture being in non compliance…way to go Berkeley.

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    also my curb is so broken up it doesn’t even resemble a curb!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    Berkeley’s can washing program

  • Howie Mencken

    Somebody is getting rich on this scheme,

  • Mbfarrel

    They are also responsible for the recession and the wealth distributing push to tax the job creators into the poorhouse.

  • I moved a neighbor’s cart away from the curb this morning because it was diverting rainwater from the storm drain.

  • curmudgeon

    The postcard cites BMC 12.34.020 as supporting the requirements, but in fact that section doesn’t support any of it:

    12.34.020 Garbage, Recycling, and Organics Carts–Location.

    A. On the designated day of collection, all occupants except those exempted in Section 12.34.040,
    shall place the City provided curbside cart in the gutter area or in a
    clearly accessible location at the curb when gutter placement is not
    possible. The cart must be placed so that it does not obstruct the
    right-of-way of traffic or the sidewalk. The cart may not be placed for
    collection on any stairway or in a garage, except as specified in
    Section 12.34.040.
    The occupant or his/her agent must remove the curbside cart from the
    public right-of-way within 24 hours of garbage collection.

    B. In instances
    in which the City determines that curbside collection is impossible due
    to insufficient room in the gutter or at the curb (an area at least 2
    feet by 3 feet square), absence of a parking strip adjacent to the curb,
    a slope not suitable for carts as determined by the City, or other
    conditions that compromise collection operations and safety, the City
    may authorize an exception to curbside participation and provide
    backyard/on-property service. (Ord. 7252-NS § 1 (part), 2012)

    Whoever authored the postcard is a clown, and whoever should have reviewed it but didn’t is an idiot. What a waste of money.

  • curmudgeon

    In general I’m in favor of keeping people employed, not replacing them with machines. Never use the automated self-check at Safeway or Home Depot .. stand in line and let the human do it.

  • Annoyed

    BPD doesn’t care about theft unless it is the Chief’s son’s iPhone.

  • tor_berg

    Most college-educated people work half as hard.

  • Never saw the postcard, this is literally new news for me.

    Perhaps USPS mis-delivered it like they do regularly with my magazines, Netflix discs & who knows what else…hopefully they aren’t mis-delivering credit card offers in my name (knock on wood).

  • Don’t tell the city that, they’ll bill you to fix it!

  • Howie Mencken

    Getting riled up on Berkeleyside is one thing. Letting the city employees responsible for this insulting fiasco know how you feel is another. Take your pick, or vent to all three:

    Christine Daniel, City Manager

    Andrew Clough, Dir. of Public Works

    Ken Etherington, Solid Waste Division Manager

  • Howie Mencken


    There are (at least) three mistakes here big enough to warrant a a little investigation and perhaps a firing or two. As others have said:

    1. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the daily hassles we work around in Berkeley. There’s no parking and where there is, often there’s no side walk or curb. This cluelessness screams the city employees mantra: Berkeley is a great place to work, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    2. The knee jerking council bought an expensive and unworkable program because they liked the label. Bad enough. But shouldn’t our $250,000/yr City Manager, Christine Daniels have some responsibility for due diligence in purchases of this magnitude?

    3. Our city council votes in public on its own seating chart! In that context of hyper triviality; Screwing up our street parking and mandating precision bin placement is a monumental issue…and one that’s announced after the fact!!! We need a new “public notice” system, beginning with posting items on Berkeleyside.

    It’s as if the city is looking for ways to piss us off. I don’t buy the “saving a few bucks” scenario. When is the last time you heard that from a city staffer? What they did say was – the money for these new rigs was “IN THE BUDGET”. That’s a phrase which apparently gives our city employees license to spend without thinking.