Residential garbage fees could rise 25% in Berkeley

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

Berkeley began using automated single-operator garbage trucks as a cost-saving measure late last year. Photo: City of Berkeley

Berkeley residents could see a 25% hike in their garbage pick-up fees as the city struggles to find a way to bridge the gap between the cost of pick-up services and the income they generate.

In a special session Tuesday night, staff explained that the Refuse Fund, used to cover pick-up fees, is slated to run at an annual $2-3 million deficit over the next five years, leading the city to consider boosting pick-up fees.

As a result, residents who use the most common trash container, which holds 32 gallons, would go from paying about $30 a month to about $37. And those costs would continue to rise annually by 3% beginning in fiscal year 2016 as part of the city’s efforts to adopt a “sustainable rate structure” that could keep pace with rising costs.

Those increases, staff explained to council, would lead to a $5 million surplus in the Refuse Fund by fiscal year 2019, allowing the city to consider ways to update its outdated transfer station, which city manager Christine Daniel described Tuesday night as “not remotely close to industry standards.”

Council members said they were surprised to see such a large jump in projected service costs.

“I don’t know how other people are feeling, but I was pretty alarmed,” said Councilwoman Linda Maio.

Click the chart to see the full staff presentation made to the council Tuesday. Data: City of Berkeley

Numbers shown are in millions. Click the chart to see the full staff presentation made to the council Tuesday. Data: City of Berkeley

Part of the problem for Berkeley is that residents do not pay for recycling or organics pick-up. Fees are tied only to solid waste pick-up, which has declined and is projected to continue to drop. In 2010, the council considered creating a recycling fee to help bridge the gap, but decided to pursue other rate structures.

Some council members suggested that rethinking pick-up fees, and tying them to recycling and organics services, may be necessary going forward. (See a presentation about the program and projections here, as well as the staff report from Tuesday night’s meeting.)

Councilman Gordon Wozniak said it may well be time for the city to charge for recycling and organics, or face declining revenues for years to come. He also noted that the city approved a “substantial increase” in fees three years ago, and said fundamental changes may be needed in the rate structure to avoid the same fate moving ahead.

“I think we have to bite the bullet on this and it’s going to cause some pain,” he said. “If we don’t do that now it’s going to be really, really painful in five years.”

To cut costs, Zero Waste Division manager Ken Etherington said the city may eventually consider offering garbage pick-up every other week, which he said has worked in cities such as Renton, Wash.

The city has already made changes — such as increasing route efficiencies, using single-operator automated trucks and renegotiating contracts for services — to save money. Those changes have reduced annual costs by $2.5 million, but are not enough, staff told council.

As part of the program, commercial rates would increase as well, but only by a proposed 2.5%, because current fees for those services already mostly cover pick-up costs, staff said.

Marva Sheehan, a consultant hired by the city to help study the issue, said some cities, such as Alameda, are phasing in fee increases over multiple years to soften the blow. Council members said they’d like to look at that option in Berkeley as well.

Even with the proposed fee increase, Berkeley residents would pay less for pick-up services than residents in nearby cities, said staff. Click the graph to see the full staff presentation made to the council Tuesday. Data: City of Berkeley

Even with the proposed fee increase, Berkeley residents would pay less on average for pick-up services than residents in nearby cities, said staff. Click the graph to see the full staff presentation made to the council Tuesday. Data: City of Berkeley

Council members and members of the public also noted that some services — such as street sweeping, cleaning up illegal dumping and graffiti removal — are paid for out of the Zero Waste Program but should perhaps be covered, in full or in part, by a different funding source so as not to put the burden squarely on residents paying solid waste pick-up fees.

“I could ask, how does street sweeping get us to zero waste,” observed Councilman Laurie Capitelli. “But I’m not going to do that now.”

Mayor Tom Bates noted that, if the city didn’t offer recycling and organics pick-up, the Refuse Fund would be in the black by nearly $5 million.

“If we want these cadillac services,” he said, “we’re going to have to pay, because it’s not free to do.”

All of these efforts are aimed at helping the city meet its goal of reaching “zero waste” by 2020, a goal adopted by council in 2005.

Council members asked staff to bring back additional analysis related to a different fee structure, a possible recycling fee, a possible reduction in the proposed fee increase, and more information on the effectiveness of single-operator trucks, in addition to other requests.

Staff plan to return before council with that analysis early next year, with a proposed effective date for the new fees — depending on what council decides, as well as compliance with Proposition 218 — as of July 1, 2014.

New waste bin pick-up plans: Impossible in Berkeley? (11.30.12)
Layoffs, fee increases proposed for 2012 budget (05.03.11)
Are plastics good or bad? An author explains (04.25.11)
Berkeley’s new recycling carts: How it’s going so far (10.27.10)
City’s new recycling carts met with mixed reception (10.15.10)
New powder-blue split recycle carts coming your way (10.12.10)
A new type of green: Berkeley may charge for recyclables (03.29.10)
Garbage rate structure the problem (02.11.10)
Recycling success leads to city budget woes (02.09.10)

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  • Woolsey

    Agree on the poachers – I can’t see Berkeley picking on these marginal folks who are barely getting by. I also like that they don’t charge me for collecting recyclables, unlike the City.

  • Chris J

    There’s a thought. Is it possible to simply cancel your garbage and recycle pickup service? Isn’t it assessed yearly through our property taxes specific to Berkeley? Do we actually have that option?

  • Chris J

    W requested a smaller garbage can a few months ago and barely fill it halfway. On rare occasions when doing big house cleaning, we end up with a lot of extra…which we divide up into neighbor’s unfilled receptacles. Seems reasonable.

    Reminds me of the classic story of a guy walking past a neighbor’s house, opens up the guy’s garbage can to put a chewing gun wrapper into. Guy says ‘That’s MY garbage can.’ So the passerby smiles, and tosses the offending piece of garbage onto the guy’s lawn.

    There’s a moral in there somewhere, something along the lines of don’t ever piss off people who can spit in your food in a restaurant.

  • EBGuy

    Let me start off by saying that I’d like to see the Solid Waste jobs remain as city jobs. The union needs to continue to realistically look at what privatization offers the city so that they can remain competitive. The pensions are the goose that lays the (unsustainable) golden egg.

    I would refer you to section 43.2 in the 2008-12 MOU (page 90 in my link above). This is the benefit that the city employees receive:
    “The City shall contribute to the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) each pay period seven percent (7%) of the employee salary required by CalPERS. This payment shall constitute the required 7% employee contribution and is being made by the employer in lieu of contributions made by the employee… on January 5, 2003 …the City’s contribution to CalPERS on behalf of the employee will increase from 7% to 8%.”

    In the new MOU, a two tier system was established in which NEW employees only “shall pay 2% of the employee contribution”. (see page 5) Existing employees continue to get the 8% employee contribution picked up by the city.

    You are correct in the first part of your assessment. If Employers’ PERS rates spiral out of control, the employees may be ask to help out the city. The taxpayers are on the hook for the 3% increase in FY2014 and subsequent 1.7% increase in FY2015 (if needed).

  • bgal4

    Recycling is done by the Ecology Center, not the city solid waste dept.

  • composting is better

    Woolsey, I don’t think your idea makes sense.

    First, composting itself already sequesters carbon. Nearly all of the carbon in green waste remains in the finished compost. From there it may be taken up by plants and the cycle resumed. I’m sure some of the carbon returns to the atmosphere through fire or biological activity but the net effect of composting is to build up soil — which sequesters carbon.

    Composting also reduces the need for fertilization which also can often mean a reduction in emissions and petrochemical extraction.

    Second, the total weight of Berkeley’s collected green waste is simply not that large. Smaller still is the percentage of that weight which is carbon.

    It isn’t clear that burying green waste in landfills would sequester more carbon that ordinary composting but even if it did, the difference would be small.

    So your are proposing to bury green waste in order to sequester a very, very tiny margin of carbon — at best. It might not even accomplish that.

    Finally, burying green waste in non-sanitary landfills definitely causes them to grow more quickly, which gives rise to a host of other environmental problems.

  • EBGuy

    Wow. Thanks for posting this Emily! I think this is the first time I’ve seen data about the recycling program. From what I can tell, the city gets $196k from recycled commodities (residential); however, the “please take our plastics program” costs an additional $128k. (page 7 of the November report). The overall revenue from residential operations is ~$13million, so you can see why nobody really cares about the poaching as $196k is a drop in the bucket. Residential solid waste operations cost ~$6million to run, the recycling operation about $4 million and green waste $3 million.

  • I would easily opt in to the biweekly pickup.

  • deirdre

    About 5 years back East Bay MUD started diverting San Francisco food waste into one of its anaerobic digesters, generating methane which was used to power the facility instead of escaping into the atmosphere. Can we do more of that?

  • EBGuy

    I wonder what happens to our commercial green waste? Trucked out do WCC to make compost? Recology is in pretty tight with EBMUD and is buiding a facility that can process 600 tons of organic waster (per day!) on Port of Oakland land to be used by EBMUDs digesters.. It would be nice if we could keep some of our organic, digestable waste local for energy generation.

    Last year EBMUD made $9.3million in tipping fees from their R2 (renewable recovery) program. From that organic waste they generated ~$2million worth of electricity.

    Meanwhile, Waste Management runs their trucks on CNG/LNG generated from their landfills.

  • guest

    They are raising the prices such that having a smaller size will cost as much as a larger size used to.

  • Guest

    Time to privatize and dump the union then. A private company could do a better job, cheaper, and would probably actually do something to stop the recycling poachers!

  • guest

    Recycling poachers are committing petty theft against the city of Berkeley.

    Stealing is wrong, at least where I come from.

  • EBGuy

    Totally disagree. The Green Bin is where the nasty stuff (food scraps, bones, soiled paper, in addition to the yard waste) should be going that gets picked up every week. If you don’t believe that your green bin should be picked up weekly, you’re:
    1. Aggressively composting at home (good for you, but not everyone can do this)
    2. You’re not utilizing your green bin properly
    I believe djoelt1 is on the right track. It’s the regular trash can that shouldn’t be picked up weekly. YMMV.

  • Mfox327

    Why do you tell you children it’s ok? Why don’t you tell them the truth?

  • David Tam


    I am a South Campus resident, an environmental advocate, and a union member. I call 911 any morning I see a poacher in my neighborhood;. The BPD can and usually does respond quickly at that time of day.

    I am saddened by your advice and sentimental acquiescence in environmentally-detrimental theft, which financially harms public-agency and non-profit sector organizations’ efforts to reduce climate change impacts. Proper solid waste/recycling system goal for reducing greenhouse emissions is best met by encouraging maximum participation in Berkeley Ecology Center’s weekly recycling pickups-. Encouraging “undocumented recyclers” aka thieves and poachers just reduces revenue to the Ecology Center (which contracts with City for the service) from sale of aluminum cans cherry-picked by poachers’ . Fiscal result to ratepayers: their rates go up to cover Ecology Center revenue losses — on the order of $50,000 per year, I believe — caused by poaching. Ecology Center recycling workers have well-paying unionized jobs, btw.

    If you want to help income of the undocumented, support efforts to unionize fast-food and home construction industry, not rip off a unionized environmental service. Who benefits from the poaching? Wltimatley, the fast-food retail and free-lance construction industries, whose underpaid workers, are pressured to supplement their meager incomes at public expense.

    Love that Big Mac? Love that shoddy construction job?. Your choice, but you pay more to get less environmental benefit.

  • Moritz

    It doesn’t cost any less to pick up a smaller size, so to me that makes sense.

  • Moritz

    I stand corrected :)

  • composting is better

    Where are the life-cycle analyses showing that these municipal operations,

    I looked for those before I posted my opinion that your idea doesn’t make sense. There are a decent number of papers going back years, not hard to find.

    I noted that the state and the EPA study the issue pretty seriously. One of their study groups summarized findings in a report for government policy makers. Their study examined emissions in California, Oregon, and Washington. I’ve included a link for you.

    Here’s an interesting bit:

    Diversion of food scraps from landfills offers the greatest quantity of in-state GHG emissions reductions. Food scraps are responsible for a large share of methane emissions generated by landfills, and while landfill emissions comprise only a small portion of life-cycle emissions attributable to goods and food, they nonetheless represent a real opportunity for emissions reduction. This is largely due to the large quantities of food that is wasted and sent to landfills.

    According to our analysis, the emissions reduction potential of diverting one year’s worth of food scraps from landfills through composting is equal to approximately 1.5% of California’s 2050 emissions reduction goal, 0.8% of Oregon’s goal, and 1.8% of Washington’s goal. Note that these are not one-to-one comparisons—the 2050 emissions reduction goals are the emissions that must be reduced on an annual basis, while the emissions reductions quantified by the WARM Calculator are life-cycle emissions that occur over many years based on a single year’s food waste—but are simply intended to provide a sense of scale.

    The California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board has recently issued a draft compost emissions reduction factor (CERF) as part of its rule-making process for its AB 32 Mandatory Commercial Recycling regulations. Whereas the WARM emissions factor for compost only considers the carbon storage effects, the CERF includes emissions reductions due to decreased water use, decreased soil erosion, and reduced fertilizer and herbicide use, as well as increased carbon storage in soil. As a result, the CERF places the emissions reduction potential of compost at 0.42 MTCO 2e/ton of food scraps, more than twice as high as the WARM factor of 0.20 MTCO 2e/ton. If this report’s calculations were done using the CERF, the total emissions reduction potential of composting food scraps would be even higher.

    The WARM Calculator only evaluates the relative methane emissions reductions of open windrow composting, but GHG emissions reductions can also be achieved by managing food scraps through alternative composting methods (such as static aerated piles or enclosed systems) and by anaerobic digestion. When anaerobically digested, food scraps can also be used as an alternative energy source. The methane generated during decomposition can be captured and converted to a natural gas equivalent fuel, or used to power a turbine to generate electricity.

    That document is for policy makers. Check the footnotes for a link to the EPA site for the WARM model they are talking about. There you can find information about the science and process used to develop (and update) WARM.

  • guest

    Nonsense. They don’t prevent any trucks running down the road or municipal agencies. The big recycling trucks are going to come down the road anyway, and by taking the only VALUABLE recycling products the poachers create MORE of a need for the subsidies you decry.

    You need to work harder on connecting the dots.

  • guest

    Gosh, that sounds like the republicans who used to run Berkeley

  • BerkeleyPariah

    @ Mfox327 it’s not okay and i do tell my children the truth…stealing is stealing no matter how you dress it up with a feel good story…letting people steal crv’s is hurting the city thus costing the city and the tax payers of Berkeley Large amounts of money, direct and indirect.

  • guest

    I’m not saying that it’s not stealing; i’m saying that it seems odd that a child would perceive it as stealing.

  • Waste Not, Want Not

    We keep producing less waste (recycling and composting more), so we switch to smaller garbage bins. Yet prices keep going up, since those prices have to cover the recycling (without revenue offsets, since the best stuff is stolen) and composting. Ultimately, people will start canceling service and sharing bins with neighbors. That should be fine, as there will be fewer bins to lift up on the rounds.

    However, that will also starve the city of revenues. So I suspect that the pricing scheme will change, all all three bins will have prices.

  • No More Bin Raden

    I assume you can cancel service, e.g. imagine if you were moving. While some funding for waste services may be embedded in property taxes, we pay a la carte for pickup service, through quarterly billings.

  • Mbfarrel

    Interesting that no one has yet considered the total amount of material that is handled. Recycling does not magically make mass disappear. Collecting and handling the stream collected costs money. Without knowing how much the entire system handle is crucial to understanding what the system costs.
    BTW I believe the Green Cans were instituted citywide (initially they were only in the Hills Fire Zone) to help the City meet mandated waste reduction. The City gets credit for waste reduction for the program, and that credit may not be dependant on the actual amount of green waste.

  • mary poppins

    I just contacted Waste Management and it seems like they provide service in South Berkeley. I’m looking forward to switching services, if it’s possible. The ecology center, police and city are not protecting the income stream from the higher valuable recyclables which, as I understand, was supposed to offset the price for the rubbish service.

    If we ran a company like the city runs this service, we’d be broke. Oh, wait, they are!

  • EBGuy

    While it vaguely smacks of George Bush landing on the aircraft carrier, I think the council should declare victory and go with biweekly pickup. It will put us back at the forefront of the recycling movement. And if you need a bigger can, it’s not like the city doesn’t have a lot of those in storage. I know we’ll probably be motivated to keep our smaller size container and reduce our refuse even more. Renton, WA (mentioned in the article) charges $20 for a 35 gal. can with biweekly pickup. If we keep rates flat or reduce them slightly, we’d still have plenty of funds for upgrading the transfer station due to biweekly cost savings.

    The vision of Zero Waste by 2020, is, after all, no garbage six years from now. This would, at face value, seem to imply solid waste trucks will need to roll less frequently than they do now.

  • Tired

    It still costs the same for the truck to drive down all the streets to collect the containers be they small or large. The cost for everything goes up every year, wages, fuel. From what I am reading, many people seem to forget this. Right now, Berkeley appears to charge the second least for waste services on the chart, not the most as many here want you to believe.

  • Jude

    no kidding!!