Annals of Berkeley Solid-Waste Management

cart102110.jpgOur block today enters the Fancy-Ass Recycling Cart Era. Last week, the recycling pickup crews came around and picked up the chaff the recycling poachers had left behind, and they also distributed these nice baby blue “split carts” that are apparently 1) supposed to make it harder for the recycling poachers to grab the more lucrative materials and run off with them and 2) designed to make recycling here a more efficient and tasteful enterprise.

As to the first point, it’s obvious that all a determined poacher needs to do is flip up the lid of the container and start digging around in the “cans and bottles” side of the cart to find what they’re looking for. Those who are not content to rummage around like that can also resort to just tipping the cart over and dumping out the contents. That would be aggressive, but these folks are in it for the money, not recreation. In my late walk with The Dog last night, I didn’t see any turned-over carts; but I did come across one person bent over one of the carts, pawing through the contents.

Unknown: How the recycling upgrade will pencil out for the city financially (I’ve found one reference that suggest the price tag for the carts is $2.7 million–31,000 carts at $90 each), which I believe also includes special trucks that can divide the paper/cardboard and metal/glass/plastic components of the recycling stream. It’s also unclear to me whether the city or its recycling contractor will spend more on workers to sort what’s the material the trucks pick up. I’m sure the argument has been made that any extra costs will be at least partially defrayed by additional revenue the city realizes through its increased share of recyling proceeds (the poachers divert a lot of the potential cash now).

Live On-the-Scene Update (10:45 a.m.): Although I resorted to a tried and occasionally effective strategy of not putting the recycling out until after 7 a.m.–that increases the chances the city contractor, the Ecology Center, will pick up the stuff instead of the poachers–a pirate arrived and cleaned just about all of the bottles and cans in the cart. Looked like the same had happened up and down our block. So the next question will be: how much do the new carts actually affect the amount of recycling picked up by the contractor.

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4 Replies to “Annals of Berkeley Solid-Waste Management”

  1. Here in Portland, glass goes separately into one of those smaller, rectangular, uncovered, wheelless bins. Everything else goes in the big, blue, covered rolling bin, like the one you’ve got pictured but it’s not split. I recycle like a good little Portland enviro, but don’t put out any bottles or cans that offer the refund. Actually, I don’t usually have many of those, but those that I do end up with I take to the local megamart and redeem them using the (stinky, often broken-down) machines. We don’t have the high concentration of poachers here that you do, but we have some. They seem to restrict their efforts to easily refundable stuff, and, as I say, find none with me nor most of my neighbors, who follow the practice of taking care of their refundable items themselves.

  2. Well, you bring a local oddity to mind. To wit: Most folks put those refundable bottles–which is virtually everything here–in the recycling and just let it go. Maybe that’s a reflection on an affluent community that can’t be bothered, and/or also: the relative inconvenience of cashing in the empties. Either way, it provides an incentive to the Independent Recycling Association of Berkeley.

  3. Here in NYC we’ve had the F.A.R.C. for quite a while. We separate paper, glass and garbage into their respective containers and every Monday morning a sanitation truck comes around to pick up all three to take to the landfill.
    Ergo, the F.A.R.C.E.
    I don’t know about the poachers. Do they drive around in pick-ups or other vehicles going for the mass quantities? We probably have people here…going for the newsprint. That stuff is actually pretty valuable in large volume.
    In fact, we do have a lot people going through the recycling bins as well. I reckon they would be in some other line of work if it were available. A lot of them have supermarket shopping carts which are usually loaded with hundreds of soda cans and bottles, packed in large trash-can liners. These people often look wretched, a hard-times contrast to hipster Brooklyn. It is difficult not feel to deeply sorry for them…a sign of the times.

  4. The recycling poachers started small–just as you say, shopping carts and garbage bags. You know, I’m not going to play Inspector Javert with people like that and harass them for taking what everyone else is throwing away. More recently, though, it’s evolved. People coming by in cars and pickup trucks and really loading up. I find it annoying because at that volume, they really are changing the economics of the deal for the city, and someone’s going to pay for that (ultimately it will come back to the public treasury, i.e. the taxpayers). Still, the only avenue for stopping that currently is the police, and like cops everywhere they’ve got their hands full with weightier stuff.

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