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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In Response to Mr. Forkash’s Letter

The views expressed here do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Northern California Recycling Association.

By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research (CRR)

I think your article brings a needed perspective to the question, but I don’t think I would put all the pieces together as you do.

My orientation is of a man who goes through trash all the time, looking to see what’s in play in the marketplace that is not recyclable. I started my quest being exasperated by my Zero Waste friends who had little to no idea about what’s getting thrown away and the disarray of these and other reformers at creating various minimum content and other laws to drive the reuse of previously unused scrap materials.

Paper, wood, metal and glass materials have been recycled for over 100 years; plastics and composites are the new guys on the block with no experience or even interest in what happens to their stuff after the first sale. In 2011, when I got up to 250 entries in my list, I discovered nobody was interested then (nor now, for that matter) in my little list. In the process of going through all this stuff, I realized I had created a mini-MRF, far more discerning than the monstrosities working today, with good attention to reuse. Still looking for my first bigger-than-bench-scale site, but closer than I was.

I also think AB2020’s big mistake was failing to recognize that unless CRV return was very much tied to the supermarket (its hours, location, convenience, etc.), a disconnect would exist for the always-short-of-time consumer that would allow, even encourage, folks for whom many nickels make a living to get involved in the redemption transactions. Markets hated all those scruffy underclass people and the CGA’s eternal antipathy to the idea got a face (usually what I saw black or brown) on it. And, since CalRecycle (as it’s called) gets its money from the grocers, the grocers and their lobbyists call the shots.

My recent but incomplete survey of CRV sites in operation says there are only three in Sonoma County, two in Alameda, SF and Napa counties, one each in Solano and Contra Costa counties, and too incomplete data for Marin, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties; the AB2020 arrow has landed in the mud, I wish all agreed on that. Maybe when CV trundles off into history, we can talk about it.

Note: Boone operated a Saturday morning buyback in North Oakland from early 1984 until early 1989. 

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Account of The Third Annual North Bay Zero Waste Symposium

By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research (CRR)
The July NCRA News told of the Zero Waste Symposium in Rohnert Park in late July and, after noting the 27 different speakers being scheduled, I resolved to attend. About 90 people were present with a generous dollop of old NCRAites; seen were Ruth Abbe, Will Bakx, myself, Jordan Figueredo, Gary Liss, “Green Mary” Munat, Judith Silver and Todd Sutton. I heard five highlights in the program:

1.     Mimi Enright of the Sonoma County Community Food Systems program, talked about how the county stayed on top of a rapidly shifting environment (100,000 meals needed the day after Camp Fire in 2017) at the same time respecting the integrity of many volunteer and non-profit efforts.
2.     Kourtnii Brown of Oakland’s Common Compost thinks that smaller organics diversion programs may bear more fruit than the 100+ big facilities expected under SB 1383 to make industrial scale compost at higher costs, less social gain, and an unclear contribution to social equity. She noted there is “the trend to make policies that favor only big solutions.“ very wise to my mind.
3.     Marv Zauderer started and runs the ExtraFood program in Marin County. Relying heavily on individual initiative and simplicity of organization, Extra Food tries to connect persons with food and people in need; not a lot of details but three million pounds moved in five years is 800 pounds per day of groceries; 2/3rds of his volunteers are seniors.
4.     Eric Jackson as leader of the Trashion Fashion Show of the Sonoma Community Center recounted its 9 year history with lots of kooky side bars: in addition to youth campy clothes, there are clothes for found Barbie dolls, costumes for pets with found stuff, etc. A real kick; the artiest of the day.

5. Green Mary (a/k/a Mary Munat) now has 45 employees and works a lot of big events in SF. Trying to talk the SF Marathon leaders into patches for each new year rather than yet another T-shirt. SF’s rule is that any event that requires a police permit also must have a recycling plan and program. Volunteers at many event disposal points may be the best pub ed available to not-at-home youngsters.

A nice program; well-paced. Good food and drink. A lot more individual initiative stories than we tend to hear at RU where it’s more about official and routinized efforts. Refreshing.

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Request To Support the Boone/Stein O-MRF/MxWP Lawsuit


By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research (CRR) and former NCRA President and long-term Board Member, 6/13/19, arboone3@gmail.com. Antoinette Stein, Ph.D. also contributed to this article.

INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND: For over 20 years, Waste Management of Alameda County has been planning to begin composting at their Davis Street Transfer Station (DSTS) near the bay in San Leandro. In the late 1990s an outdoor project was planned but due to worries about odors and equipment noise it was scrapped. In 2010 a second plan surfaced with indoor materials reception, prep and anaerobic composting envisioned. The City of San Leandro (CSL) approved that plan in 2011 and construction was completed on the building but not the inner workings. For some time, starting in late 2011, WMAC staff explored the idea of a mixed waste processing (MxWP) facility replacing the organics material prep space in the northeast building, which firmed up into a plan submitted in December 2016 to the Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA) with project review hearings in February and March, 2017.

Antoinette Stein, Ph.D., then a member of the Alameda County Recycling Board – a sibling agency to the ACWMA, and Arthur , former NCRA president, spoke at all three hearings of the project’s deficiencies as they saw them. In late March the ACWMA approved the project and Stein/Boone sought court review. At the Superior Court hearings, the judge agreed that substantial change was made to the project namely that it had tripled in amount of material being processed. She gave two tentative rulings in their favor only to reverse herself after hearing from attorneys on both sides of the issue. Since the middle of 2018, the matter has been before the court of appeals for this area and each of the parties have filed opening briefs and are in their final days of telling the court why they are right.

Stein/Boone are currently seeking persons and organizations (including NCRA) to endorse their side of the conflict and to file a document with the court known as an amicus brief which would state why NCRA supports the Stein/Boone position. NCRA president David Krueger has agendized the matter for the June 20, 2019 board meeting and all NCRA members are being given this briefing via the NCRA News for full enlightenment. Both the City of Oakland and the ACWMA are aware of this document and Stein/Boone think it only fair for NCRA members and boardmembers to hear and understand both sides of the issues being contended.

At the NCRA board meeting next Thursday, the board will be asked to approve of our lawsuit and to file an amicus brief with the Court of Appeals to explain how the WMAC/City of Oakland proposal to build a mixed waste processing plant (MxWP) in San Leandro, now known as an O-MRF, with an indoor composting facility and a separate anaerobic digestion (AD) facility and the ACWMA’s decision to approve the project were in error. Because of the way the matter is framed, the ACWMA is known as the respondent and the garbage company is spoken of as “a real party in interest.”

Ten Issues

  1. Measure D Issue: In its “Findings” section, Measure D 1990, now known as the Alameda County Waste Reduction and Recycling Ordinance, calls for serious attention to source separation. Section E reads in part: “Each person discards materials and should therefore be involved in solving the problems caused by the disposal of such materials; this involvement must include changes in individual behavior resulting from each person’s awareness of her or his role in creating or finding solutions to environmental problems.” There was no consideration of these strictures by the ACWMA, the City of Oakland, or any other person involved in the matter in the record in regards to this project.
  2. Participation Impacts Issue: Mr. Peter Maass, a councilmember from Albany on the ACWMA, asked at the hearings what would be the effect be of starting a garbage sorting factory to separate organics and recyclables from regular garbage to the current collection of green and blue cart materials. We know that local governments in Alameda County spend up to $50 million a year on their green cart collections programs; how many persons will stop sorting their discards? The proposer had no answer but the agency pushed on.
  3. Compost Quality Issue: Teresa Eade has been the organics lead at the ACWMA for several years with over 20-years’ experience in promoting composting programs. She heard the WMAC representative talk about composting with organics sorted-out from mixed waste and asked him via e-mail to answer her questions about the quality of compost made from mixed waste materials. He replied in general terms but also sent along technical articles, especially one from the UK Environmental Agency, that explained in detail the difficulty and toxic contamination impacts of mixing metals and plastics with organics in anaerobic digestion that then resulted in certain heavy metals migrating into the compost and making it unsuitable for agricultural application. (A phenomenon well documented in Europe). In 2018, the European Union ruled that by 2020 all organics throughout the 26 countries should be collected using source-separated methods. The reports he sent to Ms. Eade are in the administrative record but the ACWMA appears never to have considered them.
  4. MxWP Failures Issue: Arthur Boone is a 35 year veteran of the recycling industry but with limited knowledge of mixed waste processing and anaerobic digestion, but was useful because of his extensive history in garbage/recycling interface. His first comment at the hearings asked for some third party statements about MxWP. What he learned later was that both the Recycling Industries Coalition and the National Recycling Coalition had both opposed mixed waste processing with policy statements issued six months before the hearings. There are numerous failed mixed waste projects around the US and the mistreatment of discarded papers in mixed waste which end up in the compost feedstock also creates compost quality problems; Boone’s concerns were ignored. The agency relied throughout the proceedings exclusively on what the proposers said about the project and got no third-party input.
  5. Emissions Issue: Ms. Antoinette Stein was a member of the Recycling Board when the proceedings began. An Air Pollution Research Scientist, she has an extensive background in toxics and dealing with gaseous emissions from industrial processes. Her major concern was that they substantially changed the project after the 2011 CEQA approval, and that the new impacts needed to be addressed and mitigated especially in regards to the nearby disadvantaged community. She opposed the tripling the amount of organic material processed in the same size building, and the added step of removing odorous and toxic AD digestate when such activities were not permitted in the 2011 CEQA approval.

WMAC’s lead staffer said that the large biofilter installed outside the processing buildings would capture all gasses created in the buildings and would solve any and all of these problems. What he did not suggest was careful monitoring of the perimeter of the facility before and after operations began to check for methane levels in the ambient air. Methane is an odorless gas and whether it escaped into the atmosphere or was broken down in the biofilter would only be known by careful perimeter monitoring, odors were a big concern to WMAC but not all gasses have odors.

  1. Prior Support Issue: In September, 2016, four months before the hearings began, Ms. Sommer as agency director had written a letter to CalRecycle commending the project. This letter was never discussed at the hearings but turned up in the administrative record. The WMAC’s lead staffer said at a hearing that he had spent 18 months before the hearings telling people about the project and presumably had asked Ms, Sommer for this letter. Although there was no knowledge of this letter at the hearings, as it was disclosed after the hearing, it called into question any objectivity that staff might have had and, in general, the fairness of the proceedings.
  2. Environmental Impact Review Issue: CEQA says that when a project is modified with significant environmental effects, a re-doing of the EIR is required. In the first plan for this project, approved by the CSL in early 2011, the northeast building was fitted with simple screen and grinders as are found in many commonly-constructed compost prep facilities around California that receive source-separated materials. In the 2017 plan the northeast building was now fitted with 220 moving parts that would separate recyclables and compostables from garbage “up to 61%”. This is a very different function with very different outcomes and requires a full Environmental Impact Review (EIR). See Stein above on AD with mixed waste feedstocks.
  3. European MxWP Experience Issue: Europe’s has extensive experience with MxWP and AD; WMAC’s lead staffer bragged of the many facilities in Europe whose features were copied in this plan. He either didn’t know or failed to disclose that the EU was at the point of banning all composting from mixed waste materials in agricultural applications, a matter finalized in the summer of 2017, six months after the hearings were closed but discussed for years before enactment.  It would appear that composting a “dirty” (i.e. contaminated) feedstock creates a less valued compost that would have questionable (and never considered) markets.
  4. SB 1383 Compliance Issue: State law enacted in 2016 has drastic requirements for 2020 and 2025 in getting organics out of landfill-bound materials. This issue was not raised by any of the parties at the 2017 hearings but is very important in assessing the project’s long-term viability. By allowing and encouraging buyers of disposal services in Oakland to bypass green cart collection services by relying on the OMRF facility, the City of Oakland loses its control over the ability of some accounts to contribute to the city’s overall organics diversion goal. Is this good?
  5. Traffic Issue: In his statements at the hearings, WMAC’s lead staffer was proud that composting on site would reduce outbound truck trips. Since composting reduces the volume of compostable materials by (usually) about 50%, if it takes 12 truck trips each day to haul away all of DSTS’s compostable materials, it will take only 6 truckloads to haul away the finished compost; that would clearly be a local gain. Later on, however, this same spokesperson told his audience that he expected to line up other trucks from other communities to drive in that would use the facility as a “state of the art/first of its kind” project but he never mentioned the untabulated and not discussed increase in truck traffic by these new customers. (FYI, DSTS operates at about 60% of its daily rated capacity; all recyclables now collected in Oakland and Hayward never enter DSTS.)

In conclusion, as moving parties in this process, we are not asking the appeals court to end the project, we are simply asking the court to find defects in the procedures that can be addressed by a more careful examination of the facts as they exist. We hope that NCRA will join us in asking this review and reconsideration and include such items as it chooses in its brief.

PS. I was given a copy of NCRA President David Krueger’s response to our Support Request. In the same way that he disagrees with my statements and conclusions, I disagree with his. Over the weekend I will respond with clarity and brevity, and as planned add footnotes and references to this Request. NCRA members interested in reading my reply and the longer version are welcome to request it at arboone3@gmail.com. All boardmembers will get a copy long before the Thursday meeting. I appreciate the tone of this discussion and I hope we can all keep to the matters at hand and reach good decisions; so far so good. ARB

SB 1383 Is Moving Forward

By Arthur R. Boone, Center for Recycling Research (CRR)
On Wednesday December 18th, Cal Recycle formally ended its early regulation phase and is now drafting final regulations that must be approved by the state officer in charge before becoming final in 2022.

The Legislature has put a lot in play and the department is trying to step up its enforcement work. When you consider that CA has as much garbage now as it had when AB 939 was adopted 29 years ago, the legislature may have lost patience with the “talk-big, act small” results of AB 939 implementation.

In Europe, the EU voted about a year ago that starting in 2024, all organics shall be collected as a source-separated material and not delivered to landfills but to other beneficial end uses. This ruling came after 20 years of fooling around with various kinds of programs to keep methane out of landfills and bowing to the garbage-as-usual interests in used materials management. It’s easy to think that CA will now be repeating for ourselves what Europe has learned in the last 20 years as we try to make SB 1383 work.

Maybe we need to bring Enzo Favoino to Northern California and run him around with his stories; a wise man from Italy and ZW leader in Europe.