30 Years of Curbside Recycling

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Ecology Center administers grant to fund Ecology Action's first drop off recycling program at the University Avenue Coop Supermarket. This is part of an emerging grassroots environmental movement across the country.. 1970 Ecology Action Starts Volunteer Recycling Yard. Recycling Roots. This is how it was done in the

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30 Years of Curbside Recycling

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1. 30 Years of Curbside Recycling

2. Ecology Center administers grant to fund Ecology Action’s first drop off recycling program at the University Avenue Coop Supermarket. This is part of an emerging grassroots environmental movement across the country.

3. Recycling Roots. This is how it was done in the “old” days- one can at a time. This can crusher was made from a reclaimed truck axel. Nay Sayers claimed that a bunch of hippies and Lincoln Brigade grannies crushing cans in a parking lot would never have any major impact on the waste problem. They were wrong.

4. Before the California bottle bill beverage containers only value was material’s scrap value. Today there consumers pay two and half cents on each beverage container which helps to fund recycling efforts and reduce litter. In 1974, Community Conservation Centers (CCC) emerges to take over Berkley’s drop off, and later buy back centers. CCC now also provides sorting, processing and resale for all residential and commercially collected materials as well.

5. Ecology Center publishes “How to Start a Recycling Program”. The guide pulls together Berkeley’s grassroots recycling experiences, furthering the goal of providing concrete demonstration programs that serve an immediate local need while offering viable solutions for other communities.

6. Ecology Center initiates one of the country’s first curbside recycling collection program. This program runs on volunteer energy and collects newspaper on monthly bases. Now the longest running curbside collection program in the country. Also in 1973, the Ecology Center sponsors the first national recycling conference in San Francisco. The Convention spawns conception of statewide organization of recyclers now embodied in the California Resource Recovery Association (CRRA).

7. It was the clear intention of the early recyclers to institutionalize recycling. They knew that drop off programs would only work for the truly dedicated, and that consistent weekly curbside collection of materials separated in the home was the only was this kind of program could have a major impact in the residential sector.

8. As the program progressed the emphasis was on getting solid consistent institutional funding and good market process while continuing to provide regular reliable service in the community. In the early stages, newspaper bundles were manually stacked in trucks and no magazines catalogues, junk mail or other “contaminants” were allowed.

9. In an effort to promote reuse of materials as the highest and best use, the Ecology Center starts the Environmental Container Reuse program, ENCORE!, providing a viable demonstration program for wine bottle reuse. At this time glass was still the most common beverage container and there was a highly developed reuse infrastructure through a bottle deposit system. ENCORE! was seeking other ways to expand on California’s glass reuse infrastructure and today continues selling recycled and reused bottles to California’s wine industry as a private business.

10. Efforts to seat recycling in a solid policy framework succeed in passing the City of Berkeley’s 1976 Solid Waste Management Plan that calls for residents to separate their recyclable materials from their garbage in the home, and setting the first 50% recycling goal. Perhaps the beginning of “diversion” based legislation, and possibly the first municipal ‘source separation’ plan.

11. Ecology Center adds weekly curbside collection of tin and aluminum cans, glass, and cardboard to the program with additional funding from the California Waste Management Board.

12. When the Bay Area’s landfills began to reach capacity, waste disposal would undoubtedly increase providing greater opportunity to expand and consolidate “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” as the waste reduction mantra. With the dump right out in front of the city residents saw more directly the impacts of their waste. New solutions were clearly needed and the cheap and dirty solution of simply dumping waste in the bay would not be an option.

13. Burning garbage as part of so called “Waste to Energy” projects were being promoted across the region. A solid waste incinerator plant was proposed at current waste transfer station site to solve the City’s growing garbage problem. The Ecology Center and others fought the battle against toxic incinerators helping pass Measure U that blocked incineration and further cemented recycling as a key part of the waste solution.

14. City leases recycling yard to Ecology Center and supports Curbside program with small grant and a truck. Planning for closure of Berkeley’s landfill intensifies as it reaches capacity. Urban Ore becomes Berkeley’s major salvage operation removing reusable and valuable materials from the garbage stream. Ecology Center, CCC, and Urban Ore form the Berkeley Recycling Group to bid for City contracts.

15. Paper baler operated by Community Conservation Centers (CCC). Until curbside collection went weekly the Ecology Center was collecting about 200 tons per month of news paper. In 1989, under a new contract with the City of Berkeley the Ecology Center began weekly collection. Several years later magazines, junk mail, and other mixed paper was added top the “fiber” stream. Today The Ecology Center collects over 500 tons per month of paper fibers.

16. Berkeley’s landfill (now Cesar Chavez Park) reaches capacity and is closed, as regional garbage crisis develops. The transfer station at 2nd and Gilman opens and begins trucking City's garbage to Altamont Landfill. Residents pass Measure G establishing goal to divert 50% of the waste stream through reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting, setting a precedent that the state and county would later adopt as well.

17. Ecology Center creates the ‘Recyclones’, a musical recycling performance group doing shows at schools, Berkeley Farmers’ Markets, other public events, and even at City Council to promote source separation and residential recycling. This was a City of Berkeley funded education program that prepared residents for the “scaling up” of recycling into a weekly collection program.

18. The Recyclones worked with school age children to teach the importance of recycling to help bring recycling as a mainstream value in the homes of all Berkeley residents. The Ecology Center produced three comic books which were distributed to schools and coordinated with performances by the Recyclones.

19. California’s Bottle Bill AB 2020, known to insiders as “California’s Compromise” dismantled the extensive reuse system of beverage containers and effectively ended glass reuse in the state. The compromise funded recycling programs across the state while saving bottlers and retailers hundreds of millions of dollars. It paved the way for the invasion of disposable plastic containers.

20. The City contracts Ecology Center to do weekly curbside collection of cans, bottles, paper, and cardboard dramatically increasing participation rates and tonnages collected. The recycling operation increases its professional capacity and signs a union contract with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW IU 670). The City begins a public education program focused on source reduction called “PreCycling”.

23. The weekly program has been collecting approximately 130 tons per month of glass, which is color sorted by hand to ensure it is recycled back into bottles. This “closed loop” recycling system is more environmentally sound than systems that do not sort their glass. Such programs often use the mixed glass to cover garbage in the landfill as “alternative daily coverage” or it gets used in asphalt pavement wasting the embedded energy and resources .

24. Ecology Center adds mixed paper, phone books, junk, mail, catalogues cereal boxes etc. to the collection program. In order to make the most of the less valuable mixed paper it is combined with news and goes to make cereal boxes.

25. City starts monthly yard waste collection and composting program that later becomes bi-weekly in 2000 diverting 6% percent of the City’s ‘waste’. Weekly collection with residential food waste could divert much more.

26. Current infrastructure at the transfer station is inadequate for weekly residential yard waste and kitchen waste collection.

27. Currently, Berkeley’s green waste which includes residential yard waste, commercial food waste from a limited but expanding program, and drop off yard waste is trucked to the Central Valley where it is composted at an industrial scale wind row composting facility. Free compost from this facility is available to community gardeners free of charge through the Ecology Center sponsored Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative.

28. Ecology Center releases the “Report of the Berkeley Plastics Task Force” documenting the many problems with disposable plastic containers and the many regrettable impacts of collecting them as part of recycling programs. Report has been used by anti-plastics activists around the globe, most recently in efforts to ban plastic bags in South Asia.

29. City Council mandates collection of #1 and #2 plastic bottles. Proponents of plastics collection argue that local markets will emerge for post consumer plastic and that closed loop recycling of plastic is possible. To date none of Berkeley’s plastic has found a market in bottle to bottle recycling, and most of it is shipped to China where it is reportedly “downcycled” into carpet and textile fiber.

30. City begins commercial food waste collection pilot program composting food waste from restaurants and institutional sources, this later become an official program in 2001. As the the program grows we hope that weekly residential kitchen waste can be added to this program.

31. Ecology Center recycling fleet begins to operate on 100% Biodiesel fuel reducing toxic emissions and promoting use of renewable fuel for heavy vehicles. This paves way to City of Berkeley and Berkeley Unified School District who converted top 100% Biodiesel in January 2003, quickly becoming the largest municipal fleet using Biodiesel fuels vehicles in the country. City of Oakland, EBMUD and others across the globe watch with interest.

32. Ecology Center and the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) sponsor the Zero Waste Fellowship promoting the new Zero Waste paradigm and sharing experiences with international waste advocates from the Global South. The three week intensive training and exchange program hosted Zero Waste Activists from India, the Philippines, and South Africa.

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