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Berkeley Investigates Ways to Boost Recycling Revenue

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday February 25, 2010 - 08:42:00 AM

If the city of Berkeley is looking for ways to boost its recycling revenue, it will have to try harder. 

At a special workshop  

Tuesday, most councilmembers showed little excitement about the Public Works Department’s plans to meet a staggering deficit in the refuse fund, complaining about the lack of a long-term plan on environmental policies. 

However, everyone agreed that the problem needs to be addressed before it gets any worse. 

As one councilmember pointed out, if the city ends up meeting its zero waste goals, there may not be any garbage left to recycle soon. 

Although the city’s Public Works Department had hoped that a 20 percent hike in garbage collection rates would result in $5.5 million in revenue, it actually caused a $4 million shortfall, contributing to a $10 million deficit in the city’s General Funds for the 2010-11 fiscal year. 

Public Works Director Claudette Ford told the council that 80 percent of the revenue expected from new rates in commercial and residential recycling as well as from the city’s transfer station fees had not been attained. 

Customers switching from bigger to smaller garbage cans to avoid higher rates was one of the main reasons for the deficit, she said. There has been a 15 percent decrease in the number of large gallon cans and a 209 percent increase in 20-gallon cans in residential recycling. 

“People realized that when they recycled, they didn’t need that big a garbage can,” she said. 

For commercial services, the loss of two customers alone accounted for a $60,000 loss. 

However, most councilmembers agreed that it would be unfair to punish people for recycling. 

“We are glad we are going in this direction—that we are recycling more, but it still costs the same to go and pick up the cans, whether they’re 2 feet or 4 feet high,” said Councilmember Linda Maio. “It’s labor-intensive.” 

Berkeley is currently the only city in Alameda County that uses a two-person pickup truck. 

Councilmember Gordon Wozniak asked for more proof of how close Berkeley was getting to meeting its zero waste goal. 

“We may be more pure than other cities, but we are not recycling more,” he said. “We are not a star yet.” 

Ford said that her department was working with the Zero Waste Commission to come up with viable ways to address the deficit. 

“We certainly want residents to recycle, we encourage that,” Ford said. 

Some of the things being considered are a restructured business model, a minimum service charge and a review of transfer station fees. 

Public Works is also proposing to redirect commercial recyclables from the city’s dual-stream Materials Recycling Facility to a single-stream processor to save money, which critics said would increase contamination and reduce the value of materials, clashing with Berkeley’s Highest and Best Use principles. 

Dual stream keeps newspapers and mixed paper separate from cans and bottles. 

Zero Waste Commission Chair David Tam urged the City Council to reconsider switching from dual to single stream. 

Mark Gorrell from the Ecology Center asked the council not to blame all the city’s problems on recycling. 

“Fees for recycling have gone up a little bit, but we think it’s important that doing things the right way is much better than doing things the quick and easy way,” he said.  

Members of the Ecology Center and the Community Conservation Center stressed that dual stream was much more cost-effective than single stream. 

“The question is not a dual stream or a single stream; the question is which one gets us closer to 100 percent zero waste,” Wozniak said. 

Ford said that the city would also be rolling out split carts in September, which would keep different kinds of trash in separate compartments and hopefully reduce poaching. 

The Zero Waste Commission is scheduled to hold a meeting on March 15 to discuss some of the proposals suggested to balance the refuse fund. 

The council is expected to provide further direction on the issue on March 23.