There are two primary reasons that environmentalists support the 20 percent refuse rate increase currently proposed in Berkeley.
The first is the reduction in greenhouse gases that would result from less waste being produced, as folks are charged more for their garbage pickups, and the second is the reduction in waste hauling when the waste transfer station (also known as the materials recovery facility, or MRF) at Fourth and Gilman gets modernized and can recover more reusable materials. In order to modernize this facility, more revenue is needed. The proposed fee increase will provide some of this needed revenue to the Berkeley Solid Waste Division for the purpose of modernizing this facility.
Currently, most of Berkeley’s solid waste is hauled by truck from Berkeley to the Altamont Landfill in far eastern Alameda County. According to figures supplied by David Tam, vice chair of the Berkeley Zero Waste Commission, refuse shipped out to Altamont last year was 52,993 tons out of a total amount of 76,980 tons.
This approximate 90-mile round trip contributes considerably to Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions (Note: We are not sure if this figure is included in the carbon emission profile the city is using in the Climate Action Plan approved last month, since these greenhouse gasses are emitted outside the city).
One of the best ways to reduce these trips would be for Berkeley residents to generate less waste. The other way is to increase the “recovery” of reusable materials in Berkeley from municipal waste before it gets shipped out to Altamont and other places. We in the Sierra Club feel that the proposed refuse rate increase of approximately 20 percent (which will affect most households using a 32-gallon container to the tune of $4.20 per month) is a fair and reasonable charge for the service provided by the city. In fact, Berkeley’s current rates are below Richmond and Oakland, and after the 20 percent increase, will be about the same. Berkeley’s new rate after the increase will be $27.10, which compares to $26.95 in Richmond, $26.51 in Oakland, $30.19 in El Cerrito and $44.53 per 32 gallon container in Piedmont.
Berkeley residents can still decrease their refuse rates by downsizing their can by one size. Any one-size reduction will decrease fees by about 25 percent, offsetting the increase in rates. And, of course, this encourages residents to think further about what winds up in the “trash can.”
The new rate structure also establishes a citywide rate and eliminates the previous districts. Residents in specific neighborhoods will continue to pay a fire surcharge for the additional services they receive (no increase is planned to this surcharge).
The Sierra Club encourages you to support the Berkeley refuse rate increase by recycling your protest cards and not mailing them to the city.
Kent Lewandowski is chair of the Northern Alameda County Group of the Sierra Club.