By Marilyn Claessens
Daily Planet Staff
Residents soon will be able to trim their trees or prune their rose bushes, or pull weeds and enjoy a city pickup of their throwaway greenery every other week.
As of July 3, the Public Works Department will increase the collection of plant debris from once a month to every other week. The doubled pickups are not just seasonal, but for the entire year and future years.
Residents have accumulated much more plant debris than the city could handle in once-monthly collections, said Debra Kaufman, recycling program manager. The amount of debris increases in the warm weather seasons.
She said a good deal of the plant material that could have been recycled ended up in landfill with the garbage, because people were putting it in their garbage containers.
“They’re allowed to do that, but now they have an opportunity for a second collection,” said Kaufman.
“We have a pretty positive program. We won the 1999 Trash Cutters Award for the best organics recycling program in the state from the State of California Integrated Waste Management Board.”
City Council decided last July to increase the pickups to meet the demand. A 3 percent rate increase was added to residents’ refuse bills about the same time, and two new vehicles were purchased to haul the plant debris to the solid waste site, at 1201 Second St.
Landscapers and professional gardeners with large quantities of debris bring it to the site’s transfer station where it is weighed. The city allows a 30 percent discount from its regular rates for self-hauled plant debris, she said.
All the plant debris residents dump in their plant carts is recycled, she said. It is taken to Modesto and composted. Some of that compost product returns to Berkeley and is used for vegetation next to public schools and for community gardens.
The city’s compost material has helped produce fruit and vegetables for The Edible Schoolyard program at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.
But the city encourages residents to do as much composting as they are able to do, said Kaufman. Large branches and other bulky plants need to go into the carts provided by the city.
Berkeley has the highest rate of home composting in Alameda County, said Teresa Eade, program manager for the Alameda County Waste Management Authority and Recycling Board in San Leandro.
More than 30 percent of single-family houses in Berkeley have a composting bin, she said. Composting is the best form of state-required waste diversion, she said, because the composted material saves energy in not being hauled or distributed.
That’s a good response to the 10-year-old state waste management law that requires cities to cut waste by 50 percent by 2000, Eade said.
Berkeley has a pilot program for collecting food waste from some businesses in town, Kaufman said. The commercial food wastes are added to the plant debris and composted.
The odors from the wet fruit and vegetables from the businesses, such as the Monterey Market on Hopkins Street, are reduced because they are absorbed by the dry plants underneath, said Eade.