Soon Berkeley residents will be thinking twice before trashing their reusable materials.
Recyclers will be rewarded more than $250 for keeping their newspapers, old bills and bottles out of the garbage.
Next month the Ecology Center, the city, the Community Conservation Center and the Alameda County Waste Management Authority will kick off the citywide “Cash For Trash” contest.
Over a 22-week period, $6,500 will be given away to Berkeley households with garbage bins without recyclables.
Every week during the contest the trash from one randomly selected Berkeley home will be taken to the Ecology Center, which operates the city’s curbside recycling. There it will be inspected by a city solid waste employee and Dave Williamson, operations manager for the Ecology Center. They will ask written permission from the household before going through its trash.
If no recyclables are found in the trash, the residents win $250. If there are some recyclables, but it accounts for less than 1 percent of the trash by volume, the residents win $50. Recyclable materials include anything that the city’s curbside recycling service collects as well as yard debris.
The chosen residences, selected by random sample through a computer database, will not know before they put their trash out for collection each week.
“Any kind of education program or publicity program that promotes recycling is good,” said Kathy Evans, of the Community Conservation Center.
The center is responsible for recycling the goods picked up by the Ecology Center. “This is fun and it appeals to everyone – even people who aren’t interested in the ecological aspect of it,” she said.
Williamson said a reason for holding the Cash For Trash contest is to meet state mandates for limiting materials that go into landfills. He said Berkeley is two percentage points short of meeting its goals for the amount of materials diverted from landfills.
“There has been high participation of curbside recycling in the hills and not so much in the flats,” he said. “We want to offer an incentive for those people to recycle more.”
The contest announcement will arrive in Berkeley mailboxes the first week of February. Twenty random households will also receive “Cash For Trash” stickers. If one is attached to a full recycling bin during the first two weeks of the contest, the household will automatically win $50, even if that residence is not selected for garbage inspection.
“We are sending out 20 stickers so people will look forward to getting the information in their mailbox,” said Portia Sinnott, project manager for the Ecology Center, who is running the contest.
If less than $250 is awarded in a week, the money will carry over to the next week so residents have a chance to win even more money. The prize money is available through grants from the Alameda County Waste Management Source Reduction and Recycling Board.
Sinnott said this contest is unique to Berkeley and she does not know other cities with similar projects. The city has only held this contest one other time, for six months in 1988. That year one resident won $4,000.
“It was a really popular program,” said Evans, who along ran the contest at that time. “Once a week we gave somebody $250 for not throwing away recyclables and it worked very well. People were excited to recycle.”
Williamson said in 1988 there was a 23 percent increase in Berkeley’s materials diverted from landfill as a result of the contest.
All Berkeley residences of fewer than 10 units that are served by the curbside recycling program are eligible for the contest. The exact starting date will be announced in late January.