Early Results of Berkeley’s Split-Cart Recycling Show Big Gains

Last October, after a decade of research and planning, the Ecology Center introduced a split cart program, replacing our old blue recycling bins with 64-gallon rolling carts. So far, the program has been solidly successful in propelling us toward our goals. The reasons for transitioning to split carts were manifold: the carts would encourage more residents to participate in the recycling program by making it more convenient for customers to sort their recyclables and roll their items out onto the curb. The larger size carts would also allow customers to recycle larger quantities of materials. The carts were designed to accommodate Berkeley’s dual-stream recycling, which keeps mixed paper separated from glass, plastic, and other materials. Keeping the materials separated lowers the cost of sorting at the Materials Recovery Facility, recovers higher quality material that is more likely to be recycled into new products, and encourages customers to be more mindful of what they put in their recycling carts. We anticipated a lower rate of worker injuries with the new carts, since loaders would now utilize a cart tipper rather than repeatedly bend and lift bins into the trucks. Finally, increasing Berkeley’s participation rate in recycling would reduce the amount of material sent to the landfill, helping the city meet its Climate Action Goals, a plan adopted by Berkeley voters to reduce Berkeley’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050, and send zero waste to landfills.

After an intensive series of education campaigns, over 22,000 carts were delivered to residents during the last three months of 2010. The Recycling hotline received up to 150 calls a day, and the recycling drivers have been working overtime to adjust to the new program. A recent assessment revealed that the work is paying off: in addition to an increased tonnage of recyclables coming in, the materials collected have been of higher quality due to the split-cart design that reduces cross-contamination. The cart lids have been able to preserve the quality of the mixed paper by shielding the material from the elements. Poaching levels have also gone down, since the carts make items less accessible to poachers compared to the open-face bins.

Our most recent report shows that since adopting the new carts, mixed paper tonnage increased by an average of 380 tons per month compared to last year’s collections, a 9.8% increase in the amount of mixed paper collected in the months of October to December compared to last year during this time. Mixed container (#1 and #2 plastics, glass, aluminum, and tin) collection rose by an average of 57 tons per month, a 54% increase compared to last year. Total tonnage rose by an average of 102 tons per month, an 18% increase compared to last year.

So far, the cart program has met each of our original goals by improving customer convenience, increasing participation rates, improving multifamily residence service, improving the quality of materials, reducing cross-contamination, reducing poaching, and increasing tonnage and revenue. The next step for the Ecology Center Recycling Program is to conduct an education outreach campaign which encourages residents to not set their cart out at the curb until it’s full, thereby increasing efficiency and saving on overall operating costs. By working with residents to improve our program’s efficiency, we anticipate that the cost savings will help the City of Berkeley close their current budgetary deficits, while steadily moving closer to our Zero Waste goals.

Click here to view a slide presentation that includes more detail about the early results of the split cart program.

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One thought on “Early Results of Berkeley’s Split-Cart Recycling Show Big Gains

  1. Pingback: Single-Stream Recycling | Duke Dean's Blog: The Green Grok

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