Tom Butt for Richmond City Council The Tom Butt E-Forum About Tom Butt Platform Endorsements of Richmond Councilmember Tom Butt Accomplishments Contribute to Tom Butt for Richmond City Council Contact Tom Butt Tom Butt Archives
E-Mail Forum
Study Recycling or Just Get On With It?

On February 26, the City Council received a staff report from the City’s new environmental manager, Jenny Oorbeck, on potential strategies for reducing the solid waste stream in Richmond. The context for waste diversion is complex in Richmond. The City has a long term agreement with Richmond Sanitary Service (RSS), a subsidiary of Republic Services, Inc., for waste hauling and disposal. The West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority is responsible for providing waste processing services of the franchised waste stream in West Contra Costa County (landfilling, recyclables processing, composting and HHW) and implementation of AB939 programs. Sorting items for recycling is done at the Integrated Resource Recovery Facility operated by West County Resource Recovery Inc. a division of Richmond Sanitary Service.


Under the franchise agreement, RSS “owns” the waste stream, meaning that it is illegal for any other entity to pick up and haul waste in the City of Richmond. Any effort in Richmond to improve the diversion of solid waste from a landfill pursuant to AB939 has to involve RSS and the West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority.


While many procedures are in place to accommodate recycling, there remain challenges. For example, in order to qualify for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Credit MR 2.1, 50% of construction debris has to be recycled. It is unclear how this can occur in Richmond under the current web of contracts and joint powers agreements governing waste collection and processing. Even though the new City Hall is supposed to be a LEED Silver project, no one at City Hall has been able to explain how they are managing their waster for the Credit MR 2.1.


Although a recycling collection program exists in Richmond, it is unclear to what extent the public is participating. We know that recycling at City of Richmond facilities is spotty at best. At last Tuesday’s City Council meeting, I illustrated this by showing the contents of two types of waste containers located behind the dais. The first was a black plastic container with no identification. It was filled with 100% recyclable paper, which according to Jenny Oorbeck, was destined for the landfill. The second was a blue container marked for recyclables. It was filled with a combination of peanut shells, recyclable paper and non-recyclable Styrofoam cups. The City of Richmond staff has never taken recycling seriously.


Richmond could learn a lot from its southern neighbor, El Cerrito. Today, El Cerrito has the best waste management services available in West Contra Costa County. Though El Cerrito shares the same refuse disposal facility, and disposal rates, with other communities in West Contra Costa County, garbage collection rates in El Cerrito remain the lowest. El Cerrito appears to have improved its baseline diversion rate from 16 percent in 1990 to 50 percent in 1997 (estimated using 1996 factors). Forty-three percent of households set out their recycling each week to the tune of 360 pounds per household (including multifamily dwellings) annually. 80 percent of the eligible households subscribe to green waste service, diverting another 450 pounds per eligible household annually. 17 percent of the eligible residential customers use minicans, and only 8 percent subscribe to refuse service level higher than the standard 32-gallon can service.


We have a lot of work to do. City of Richmond staff is inclined to study it some more. I am inclined to simply get on with it. See the following story from the West County Times:


Officials vow to improve recycling

·  RICHMOND: West County hasn't met a state benchmark of diverting half its waste from landfills

By Katherine Tam


Article Launched: 02/29/2008 03:12:31 AM PST


Food bits. Leaves and grass clippings. Construction debris. Paper.

They all can be recycled, but Richmond residents and merchants are tossing them by the ton into the trash destined for a landfill.

"Combined, these material types comprise more than 70 percent of the total waste stream that's being disposed," said Jenny Oorbeck, the city's new environmental manager, who was hired in January.

Richmond city officials want to ramp up recycling efforts to boost the slumping numbers and divert more trash from the dumps. The city could, for example, have crews empty recycling carts weekly instead of biweekly. An ordinance could require developers to recycle a certain percentage of their construction and demolition materials. Food composting could be offered at home, a program El Cerrito is about to embark on.

Oorbeck will research these ideas, get input from businesses -- particularly on a possible ban on plastic foam take-out containers -- and report back to the council in April. Council members will decide what to put into action.

Recycling needs to become more second-nature, easy and convenient, council members said.

"It seems to me that if we just offer people more recycling cans or more pickups, they'd recycle more," Councilman Tony Thurmond said. "I've got two kids, and I think they can fill a can a week by themselves."

The city has fallen behind on the recycling front while others have forged ahead. Some cities already have laws on the books that ban plastic foam containers or require developers to recycle construction debris, Councilman Tom Butt said.

"This city has never seriously taken on the idea that we should recycle," Butt said, pawing through a blue recycling bin at the council dais that contained plastic bottles and paper. "Instead of studying this stuff, we just need to decide, are we going to do it or are we not going to do it? If we're going to do it, we need to make somebody responsible for making it happen and get on with it."

A California law passed in 1989 required cities to divert half their waste from landfills by 2000 or face hefty fines of $10,000 a day.

Cities showing a "good-faith effort" to improve can avoid being fined, but some have fallen short. State officials this month imposed $82,000 in penalties on the city of Cerritos in Los Angeles County after the city did not follow a local assistance plan designed to boost recycling levels.

West County as a whole has not met the state benchmark. The coalition of cities diverted 41 percent of its waste from landfills in 2001 and diverted 36 percent in each of the three subsequent years. They have sought and been granted extensions, Oorbeck said

In 2005, the cities think they successfully diverted 51 percent. The state needs to certify that number.

Richmond has made strides to become greener in recent years, lowering the fees residents pay to install solar panels and attracting new green manufacturing and distributing businesses.

Still, officials recognize more needs to be done. They hired an intern from the Goldman School of Public Policy for $8,000 to help map a comprehensive environmental strategy that includes how the city can fund programs and gauge their effectiveness.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.


Item                                         Amount in tons             Percentage of Total Trash

Food and yard waste                19,793                         30.2

Construction/demolition            14,222                         21.7

Paper                                       13,764                         21

Plastic                                      6,226                           9.5

Metal                                       5,047                           7.7

Glass                                        1,507                           2.3

Electronics                                786                              1.2

Hazardous household waste      131                              0.2

Source: Data is from 2005; city of Richmond and West Contra Costa Integrated Waste Management Authority