Berkeley is holding two public meetings this week to get input on how the city should move into the future with a new transfer station for recycling, trash, compost and other salvageable materials. (One was on Wednesday, 6-9 p.m. and the other is Saturday, 1-4 p.m.) “The facility has aged,” said Greg Apa, the city’s solid waste and recycling manager, as he gave this reporter a tour of the transfer station Monday. “In 1981 and ’82, it was supposed to be a burn plant, with PG&E converting (waste) into energy. Landfill and incineration is the worst thing you can do with it.”
A burn plant wasn’t going to fly in environmentally friendly Berkeley, which Apa said was one of the first cities in the United States to implement curbside recycling. It’s still one of the few cities in the Bay Area that handles its own garbage and recycling, instead of contracting with larger regional companies.
The idea is to scale back what the city sends to a landfill near the Altamont Pass, beyond Livermore. There’s been a re-emphasis on the United States handling its own waste management, after years of shipping it overseas. Until a year ago, 62% of U.S. recycling was processed in China, according to Apa. “Now it’s been re-allocated to re-investment in the U.S., especially with paper and cardboard,” he said. “They’re slowly rebuilding U.S. capacity.”
The city also has an eye on the future, depending on what other materials could become recyclable. Improvements in processing methods at a new station would likely lower costs as well.
Berkeley’s transfer station currently processes 147,000 tons of material from city residents and businesses every year. It was designed for less than a third of that amount. “There are numerous concerns about the infrastructure that exists now, so it’s time,” said Martin Bourque, the Executive Director of the Ecology Center, which handles Berkeley’s curbside recycling. “We’ve been advocating for a rebuild since 2004. We want to re-invest in it and get to a future where we can think about zero waste”
The city’s population grown, but technology has changed what gets recycled rather than jammed into trash cans. Not only does the city separate garbage from recyclables from compost, it also sorts plastics into compatible types.