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Urban Ore Proposes Zero Waste Transfer Station for City

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday February 23, 2007

The city of Berkeley could have a seven-acre zero waste transfer station at Second and Gilman Streets in the next three to five years. 

The plan—proposed by Berkeley-based Material Recovery Enterprise (MRE) Urban Ore founder and owner Dan Knapp—was presented to the Berkeley Zero Waste Commission at the current city-owned regional transfer station at Gilman Street on Tuesday. 

In 2006, the city hired the national firm Environmental Science Associates (ESA), who concluded that Berkeley’s transfer station complex on seven city-owned acres would need to be reorganized and rebuilt—an investment estimated at $20 to $30 million. 

“When the city adopted a zero waste goal, Urban Ore decided to step in and suggest a design for a zero waste transfer facility,” said Knapp. “We want to influence the design as much as possible. We have 25 years of experience starting at the Berkeley landfill. We want to make material recovery activity a Berkeley tradition. Our ultimate goal is to create a Zero Waste City. The new station will be efficient, easy, convenient, pleasing and sustainable.” 

Knapp also said that the remodel would boost cash flow. 

“Urban Ore’s move across town to a redesigned site dramatically helped our business after construction was completed in 2004,” he said. “Since this site will be far more efficient to use, profits should increase for all.” 

Urban Ore has invested $10,000 of its own money on architectural services to carry forward the city-sponsored contractor work that concluded over a year ago. 

Team members for the Berkeley Zero Waste Transfer Station, called BIZWITS, include Urban Ore operations manager and Knapp’s wife Mary Lou Van Deventer, renowned green architect Greg VanMechelen and architect Mark Gorrell. 

“We have done this kind of design work both for our own sites and for several dozens around USA and in Australia, New Zealand, and England. So why not do it for Berkeley?,” asked Van Deventer. 

“This is a flexible design for achieving zero waste and maximum community and city income,” she said. 

The proposal is currently at its public comment design stage. The Berkeley Zero Waste Commission is scheduled to take its plans for rebuilding the transfer station to the City Council in May. It will ask the city for resources and put forward a request for qualification (RFQ).  

“It will take time, but we are definitely going to do it,” said Zero Waste Commissioner Nashua Kalil. 

“We want to make this a silver LEED [leadership, energy and environmental design] facility, something that acts as a model for the rest of the country. The grants which will go into paying to rebuild this facility will be generating revenue for the entire community,” 

Currently, the city’s collection of discard-related businesses has an annual budget of about $26 million. It has seen a profit of around 15 percent for the last three or four years. 

“Just like any other big garbage company, the city makes a profit on its waste and recycling activities. This is both a problem and an opportunity,” said Knapp. “To get to zero waste requires weaning garbage companies from the garbage disposal dollar, and this is not easy even to think about, much less do.” 

Jeff Belchamber, general manager of Community Conservation Centers (CCC) —one of the three biggest MREs which serves as a contractor to the city for salvage and recycling services—told the Planet that Berkeley’s Multi-Material Recycling Center was in dire need of upgrades. 

“The city needs to spend some money on the dilapidated facilities here,” he said pointing at one of the sorting facilities on Tuesday. “We have really small containers for storing stuff. Bailors would make things more efficient. Hopefully with the new facility, we will be able to keep the quality and increase the tonnage.” 

CCC along with Urban Ore, Ecology Center and recovery contractors generates more than six million from the discard supply. 

VanMechelen told the commission that the design was primarily looking at better customer service and higher traffic capacity for increasing income. 

“What the customer needs is clarity, easy access and simple extensive parking,” he said. 

“At the same time materials such as paper, glass, ceramics and others get processed inside and then come out to be used by the community. Therein lies the theory of zero waste.” 

According to VanMechelen, an airport-style unloading facility would dramatically improve customer service. 

“The customer interface is eight times longer—800 linear feet compared to 100 linear feet. As a result there is speedier unloading and more traffic capacity.” 

The design calls for a single big building with 85,000 square feet instead of several buildings with less covered space and more roadways. It encourages coherent interactive operations with less site space required for traffic queues and circulation. 

“As an architect, safety is my number one concern, especially with the abundance of forklifts and shopping carts around. Also, Gilman Street is a very busy street. So the idea of having multiple driveways is dangerous,” said VanMechelen. 

Offices and education centers face Gilman Street in the conceptual plan, while an elevated observation walkway permits public and professional tours.  

“We want to educate the community about the natural environment, recycling and material flows, create more jobs and protect the creek area,” he said. 

Gorrell talked about a bioswale pond, a greenhouse, nature trails and picnic areas for children and community members. 

“The distinct areas in the proposed area provide separation for service providers, while the open structures allows flexibility as these services expand or contract. A continuous canopy above protects users from rain and is a platform for locally made artwork from recycled materials to be displayed,” he said. 

Both Knapp and Van Deventer maintain that Urban Ore’s proposed plan is cheaper than that of ESA. 

“There are only four exterior walls, not 16, and none are below grade. There is also no excavation and no ramps. Most of the services can stay on site during construction, with only the equipment moving off site. The ESA design provides no phasing, creates unnecessary logistical challenges and service confusion,” said Knapp. “Most importantly, the preliminary estimated cost is $18-$20 million without equipment, as compared to ESA’s $30 million.”