Berkeley fine-tunes its plans for a ‘jewel’ of a waste facility

A rendering of what Berkeley’s waste facility could look like, included in a report presented to the public on March 15. Image: City of Berkeley / Zero Waste Collaborative

Few cities aim to build a waste facility comparable to a sparkling gemstone.

Few cities are like Berkeley.

“We really want something that is a jewel of the city,” said Ruth Abbe, the president of Abbe & Associates and a member of Berkeley’s Zero Waste Collaborative, during a workshop Friday for public input on a new solid waste and recycling transfer station.

The city is shaping a vision for a new facility at its current site at Second and Gilman streets. Built in 1981 to handle 120 tons of waste a day, the original 4.25-acre facility has swelled to a 7.68-acre plant handling more than 420 tons of waste per day.


“It’s probably at its limit,” said Abbe. “We want to maximize diversion and have the highest and best use.”

During Friday’s two-hour session at the north branch of the Berkeley Public Library, which an estimated 20 people attended, members of the Zero Waste Collaborative – comprised of four design, construction and management firms — presented three visions compiled from earlier workshops.

All three options feature significantly larger recycling centers at the south end of the site, including drop-off areas and a weather protection canopy, with solar photovoltaic panels for on-site power generation, and entrance and exit lanes on Second and Gilman streets. The vehicle pathways would have return loops. Planners used airports and malls as examples of ingress and egress at drop-off stations.

“Like the airport analogy, you can loop back if you miss something,” said Clark Davis, director of architecture firm J.R. Miller & Associates, and a member of the Zero Waste Collaborative.

A document comparing features of each plan said the recycling center will use “airport-style” pullover parking in lieu of parking stalls, to cut-down on auto maneuvering.

All three options also include public education centers.

A rendering of what Berkeley’s waste facility could look like. Image: City of Berkeley / Zero Waste Collaborative

“We would like residents and school children to be able to go down there and see how recycling works,” said Abbe.


The differences between the plans are in the details – the biggest of which is whether the city goes with one or two large buildings.

The first option consists of two main buildings – a 31,200-square-foot recycling facility nearer to the corner of Gilman and Second streets, which would also house artist studio space. The second building, to the north, would consist of two spaces: a 30,000-square-foot transfer station walled off from a 19,600-square-foot commercial transfer space. City waste and recycling trucks would park between the north building and Second Street.

The front of the facility would consist of office space, public drop-off areas for waste, recycling and bulky items, a public-buy-back area, a sorting space, an information kiosk and a payment station. Two rainwater tanks would collect water used for vehicle and pavement washing.

“It’s a very large space. Much larger than the transfer station that’s there now,” said Davis.

Members of the public questioned whether the plan would still create enough space for public use and city collection trucks, to which Kevin McCarthy, a principal at J.R. Miller & Associates and a member of the Zero Waste Collaborative, replied: “The feedback we’ve gotten is to put this all in one area, and when we do it, you go ‘whoa.’ The feedback we got is ‘Can we separate (drivers dropping off) from the big (city collection) trucks, which is what we tried to do.”

Answering questions about potential traffic jams at Second and Gilman streets, McCarthy said the city may opt to make the intersection into a traffic circle.


The second and third concepts would bring the recycling and transfer stations under one roof, though with different configurations. Both would differ from option one in that city and contractor offices would be in the same area of the site, and city recycling trucks would use separate driveways from the public. Both would allow the Second Street cul-de-sac at the north end of the street to remain as is, while continuing to use angled parking spaces on the east side of Second Street for employee parking. Option one would move the current cul-de-sac father south on Second and use the current area for staff parking.

A plan of the public recycle drop-off area in the second waste facility proposal. Image: City of Berkeley / Zero Waste Collaborative

In concept two, the recycling center would be adjacent to the public area of the transfer station, to better integrate salvage and recovery of material. Concept two’s commercial transfer station also has an addition load-out, but its education center would be the only one of the three without public viewing of recycling equipment.

Berkeley is one of the few cities in the Bay Area that handles its own recycling and trash collection, the latter of which ends up in a landfill near the Altamont Pass. In 2011, Berkeley set a goal of diverting 90% of its material for re-use and recycling. It’s currently at about 72%. Berkeley sends approximately 75,000 tons of garbage to the landfill each year, while reusing, recycling and composting about 63,000 tons.

Berkeley’s Zero Waste Division Manager Greg Apa said the city can’t meet modern demands with the current facility. Reaching its goals will require the public’s help.

“This is a behavioral change,” Apa said.

By mid-April, the Zero Waste Collaborative aims to have at least two finely tuned plans ready for public review. The City Council would see conceptual plans by June 18. Environmental review could take up to three years, followed by another three years of final engineering and construction.