Berkeley Might End Curbside Recycling Program

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(Image credit – City of Berkeley)

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On Tuesday evening, March Berkeley City Council heard an analysis of the recycling program managed by the Ecology Center.

According to East Bay Express,

The city paid the southern California firm Sloan Vasquez $85,000 to figure out how to plug the deficit. The consultants said in taking over the recycling, the city should replace the Ecology Center’s two-person trucks with one-person trucks, except on hilly and narrow roads where one employee working alone would be dangerous. Reducing the number of drivers and overhead incurred by the nonprofits would save millions of dollars, they said. They also recommended layoffs in the city’s solid waste division.

Currently, the nonprofit Ecology Center manages a city contract to pick up paper, glass and plastic. The Conservation Center, also a nonprofit organization, is charged by the city with processing and buying back recyclables. Urban Ore, a for-profit business, salvages and sells reusable items. City workers pick up garbage, and green and food waste. … …

The point where the city and nonprofit workers agreed was that outside profit-making companies such as Waste Management should not have the commercial franchises, as they do now, to pick up recyclables from Alta Bates Hospital, UC Berkeley, Bayer Corporation, Kaiser Permanente, Pacific Steel Casting and more. Ricky Jackson, a rep for the government employees’ union, said the city could make money taking on this work.

Councilmembers want more input from the nonprofits, city workers, and the Zero Waste Commission at their March 22, 2011 meeting.

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UPDATE: There is a detailed report on many of the speakers and comments from Tuesday’s Council meeting from the Berkeley Daily Planet (always to be taken with a grain of salt) here.

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To give some more background on concerns about the study, on Tuesday Berkeleyside carried a story about the report on recycling in Berkeley:

An independent report commissioned by Berkeley to assess how it could save money on its waste and recycling operations has recommended that the city terminate its contract with the Ecology Center which started the nation’s first curbside recycling program here nearly 40 years ago. The report’s proposals have been challenged and its methodology criticized by the Ecology Center, as well as by at least one third-party waste management expert.

Concerns about the study include the following:

[Martin Bourque, Executive Director of the Ecology Center] says he sees significant problems with the assumptions made in the Sloan Vazquez report, principally that the city would be able to save money by bringing operations in-house. Citing two specific examples he says: “The city waste supervisor is already overburdened and they are suggesting doubling his workload. And, at the moment, the city doesn’t carry any overheads but that will increase their costs by 26%.”

Bourque also has issues with the way the consultation process was handled — the consultants chose the day the Ecology Center was rolling out its new recycling split-carts last October to observe the program in action, which according to Bourque was atypical of its service. He adds that offers made by the Ecology Center to meet with the consultants or share data were declined.

Berkeley resident Steven Sherman, who is President of Applied Compost Consulting and has consulted for the city on waste matters, believes the Sloan Vasquez study has “terrible policy implications for the City”. In a March 3 letter to the Council he outlines why he believes the City should not accept the report’s analysis as valid.

Berkeley’s Zero Waste Commission has also condemned the study, describing it, in a February 28 report, as ”incomplete and missing information, cost-benefit analyses, and a lack of an adequate and inclusive process”.

You can read the entire article on Berkeleyside here.

Nina Maritz

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This post is part of our series exploring the ways people and communities reuse, recycle and dispose of waste around the world.

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I saw a presentation by Nina Maritz in San Francisco in 2006, and I have continued to think about her approach periodically over the years.

Nina Maritz is a Namibian architect whose work reflects local building strategies and is built with local labor.

One project that showcases her work is the Habitat Research and Development Center in Windhoek, Namibia. Among many goals and activities listed for the center are “promote sustainable and environmentally appropriate housing” and “develop local skills in sustainable housing construction methods.” The completed project is site appropriate, made from local materials, and uses a number of passive cooling methods to keep the occupants comfortable. Each design decision addresses a number of design challenges (for example, by using poles from invasive species, she could abstain from using rare local hardwood).

What I found particularly striking about Nina Maritz’s work, and what I keep returning to, is the careful reuse of materials throughout the project.

(Photos on Flickr and in ArchitectureWeek)

Wherever possible, it seems, the architect worked with local workers and artisans to reuse materials such as corrugated metal, storage drums, cans, and tires, in both functional and decorative ways. While this approach is difficult in many places because of stringent building code and the expense of labor, it evokes an entirely different way of looking at the world, where every object holds potential not just for its intended use but also for future uses.