El Cerrito’s Big Night For Recycling

El Cerrito Recycling Celebrates 50 Years!
By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research, 8/10/22

One of California’s cities most attentive to developing multiple services to make recycling in all its facets easier for residents is El Cerrito, a small city in the southwest corner of Contra Costa County. Nestled beneath a 30- foot steep embankment, the El Cerrito Recycling + Environmental Resource Center, a 3-acre facility in use since 1972 has a wider array of destination points than any other known drop-off center in California.

On Friday, August 5, the present and past leaders were there with 150 onlookers to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the start up of the center. As seen in the photo above, the center has bins or shelves for more the 30 materials including secure spaces to exchange household goods and leave things for Urban Ore, several clothing recyclers, plus a small pass-along shed for books.

Gabrial Quinto, current Mayor of El Cerrito, was especially friendly to me, while 4 or 5 former mayors repeatedly sounded the note that it was the people of El Cerrito, not their leaders that made this facility happen. They saw the Santa Monica dropoff as their early model (not Berkeley as is often thought). A nice trail of documents that can go to the National Recycling Archives now stored at Urban Ore in Berkeley was hinted at. Those of us with archive-gathering as a favorite avocation were charmed.

The biggest disappointment in the event was the small attention paid to NCRA Member Joel Witherell who was, long before recycling became a pastime, the face that those of us saw in El Cerrito being the linchpin and leader of the program. The Parks and Recreation Director from 1973-1993. Joel was a recycler masquerading as a bureaucrat while most of us working with public officials for our livelihood or survival remember endless rebuffs to our good ideas and hard work for a future. Joel died in 2014 after enjoying his retirement but it seems others have kept the torch held high.

I remember Joel for the summer NCRA picnics at his home out east of San Pablo, his continuing encouragement to small, barely making-it, programs, (like my own [Oakland 1983-89] etc. He was a champ.

Retired Mayor Gregg Cook has a 63-page manuscript of El Cerrito’s recycling program: El Cerrito Recycling History 1972-2012

There was also a mini-reunion of old admirers of Joel who came out for this event; thinking especially of Kathy Evans, Becky Dowdakin, Chris Lehon and others.

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